The topic of humility versus arrogance has been – for the longest time – a major blocker in my own thinking as I am sure it has been for others. I remember wrestling with this issue for years as far back as when I was thirteen or fourteen. At that time I would hear others talk about it and try to sort out what it means and how to achieve it.
As I remember, the struggle went something like this. I had been told multiple things about humility – and as with all Christian doctrine – I noticed through recurring headaches that there were strong contradictions in what I was taught.
One of those major contradictions was the impossibility of pursuing ones ability to be humble if a humble person does not think about their humility. A lot of people told me not to think about being humble, but I knew I was commanded to be humble. This, naturally, made me introspect to figure out whether I was. Then I would remember that a person who is humble cannot know it. But how am I supposed to pursue humility if I cannot think about it?
Naturally I wanted to resolve this contradiction. I mean, if it hurt my head that much surely resolving it would help others, right?
But there was a problem. The Bible. The Bible was the problem. First of all, the Bible never said that a humble person does not recognize his humility. In some places it implies the opposite. If you believe Moses wrote Deuteronomy, then you have to believe that a humble man can honestly – and in humility – write that he is the most humble man on earth. Noticing this, I began to garner a general distrust for Christian memes, since it seemed like people were ultimately pulling their end ideas out of their ass and these normally contradicted the Bible in some way.
This pursuit of humility exhibited itself in the most bizarre behavior. You soon find out that the most humble people are the people who do not really care about their humility. And even these people got accused of arrogance! The more arrogant people (like me, in my estimation), however, were the ones who cared about being humble and perfect. Tying into my previous post, I guess it seems like we were so focused and insecure about our shortcomings to be humble that we ended up focusing on ourselves all the time and always bemoaning our shortcomings until we thought we were humble and then feeling rather ecstatic that we had arrived. Then, of course, upon the realization that we were excited about reaching our goal we would hound ourselves into feeling crappy again so we did not take pride in our achievement.
After a while, you begin to feel like everyone is chasing a snipe. Sanctification, I think they called it.
Remember Jesus’ parable? He compared two people. One man was declaring his righteousness to God. The other was bemoaning his shortcomings and calling himself unworthy. We were taught to be like the latter.
But in my opinion, they were both wrong. I don’t think people should bemoan their shortcomings or glory in their achievements. If all you are doing is bemoaning your shortcomings and calling yourself unworthy, you’ll never learn anything and move ahead. I can’t believe I spent so many years trying to avoid the one douche and trying desperately to be the other.
So then, what is humility? Consider the two examples in Jesus’ parable and recognize for a moment that he was giving a somewhat false dichotomy. There is a third option: just don’t care. Don’t try to please anyone who is impossible to please and you will never have to resort to wallowing in self-deprecation or glorying in the impossibly rare achievement. Humility seems to stem from lacking any need to prove yourself better than your peers. So then, a large part of humility begins by rejecting the notion of a “be holy as I am holy” God. After all, if it’s impossible to be holy like God then if you get excited about the least bit of progress you are being arrogant, right? But if you cannot get excited about any achievement without risking a twinge of arrogance, then you end up wallowing in your depression at your incapacity to ever do anything that is up to par!
But even then after giving it years of thought I think that ultimately humility is relative. In the end no matter how humble one person calls you there will always be another person there to declare you arrogant. After all, a great way to gain power over someone else is to find a goal they wish to achieve and tell them the reason they do not deserve X or the reason you do not like them is because they are not nearly close to their goal. So then, calling someone “arrogant” in the church is a fantastic weapon of control to get others to submit.
In conclusion it is really nice to not have to worry about how close I am to achieving the perfection God wants from me. I no longer have to worry about getting excited about being close and then getting depressed at suddenly becoming arrogant about it.
And at the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with a little arrogance anyway. Sometimes all it takes to achieve something is a meek person who is willing to take charge in a fit of what may at first appear to be arrogance.
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