Thursday, October 02, 2008

Want of Humility

Whoever chooses to write on the importance of humility does so as a person in which there is by nature a want of humility. To say we are sinful by nature is to say that we are proud by nature. Everyone loves it when his ego is stroked; we generally feel uncomfortable about it when it is done publicly, because when in public most of us are aware of what people will think of us when we come off as too high and mighty. So we instinctively seek to be self-deprecating.

(For that matter, incidentally, we should. Imagine someone reacting to kudos with agreement: Yes, I am great, I agree with you.)

Yet the virtue of humility is not about being self-deprecating for appearances. Anybody can do that. True humility comes from an awareness of the reality of who we really are. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, exhort the Apostles Peter and James. They don't mean that we should speak softly, be shy, or say demeaning things about ourselves. They mean that we should remember that we are unworthy, utterly unworthy, of any accolades of any kind; we are not God. How simple that sounds, yet how elusive it is: we are not God.

I think it's curious that it was Moses who wrote that Moses was the most humble man on earth. What on earth was he saying? That he was perfectly humble, good for him? Was this the first manifestation of what would one day be crooned in a country song, "It's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way"?

I think not. I think he was acutely aware of the truth about himself. I think it was his way of saying what St. Paul said, "I am chief of sinners." It was as if to say, "I know what my adversaries are saying about me, that I am not worthy to be in my exalted position; what they don't know is how well aware I am of this myself: they can't beat up on me nearly as much as I can beat up on myself. I didn't want this position, but God insisted."

True humility is to be sought after, especially by leaders. It is to be willing to beat up on yourself, to be unafraid of going to confession, to exult in the forgiveness of sins in awareness of how desperately you need it.

2 comments:

toddpeperkorn said...

Well said. Thank you

O.H. Lee said...

Good point to keep in mind. "Humility" is now something everybody thinks nobody else has. And we seem to have turned the Eighth Commandment into: "Thou shalt put the best construction on everything." (some take that to mean, "let everything go") That may be a kind of humility before men, but it's not what humility looks like as a Christian before God.