Humility In A Modern Era

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The theme of humility is a constant throughout the scriptures. It is the central virtue of Christ, the One, “Who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Humility is the sign of holiness. It is the virtue that we Christian believers are called to cultivate in ourselves, so that we can truly come to love one another as Jesus loved us.

Humility gets a bad rap in our own time. It is often considered a sign of weakness in our culture. This is because everything in modern culture seems to be based on competition and comparison. The idea of competition has been narrowed down to a Darwinistic “survival of the fittest” battle for dominance. There is no room for peace, or justice in this. In this environment there can only be a few winners and all others must, therefore, be losers. We see the consequences of this kind of thinking in the constant and ready upheavals of jealousy and wrath, of bitterness and unholy desires for revenge on the part of those who perceive themselves as losers, and arrogant indifference, or outright cruelty and meanness on the part of those who see themselves as winners. Both winners and losers, then, suffer from the vice of pride; one out of an arrogant opinion of themselves, the other out of a resentment that their ‘greatness’ is being unfairly ignored. Both are caught up in false comparisons. They compare themselves to one another, treating, or responding to one another, accordingly. Is it any wonder why our world is torn so often by violence, bitterness and injustices of every kind? What fools we mortals can be without God.

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What is Peter talking about here then? How does this humility thing translate into our own times? The kind of humility that Peter is talking about is that which has a healthy, proper, and modest opinion of one’s own importance in light of Jesus Christ. Humility’s strength is in things like patient endurance, gentleness, and kindness. It is a virtue that can be shared by both the great and the lowly. It does not compare the self to others. Rather it recognizes the shared and equal humanity of all. It is the virtue that underpins our love for one another. It is the virtue that allows us to serve one another with compassion, especially those who are suffering. It is the cornerstone of all hospitality. It is the virtue that allows us to forgive one another as God has forgiven us. It is the cause of our strength in the face of persecution. It is the power behind our ability to bear one anothers sorrows with kindness and true care and concern. It is the humble one who, when struck on one cheek, can offer the other, rather than strike back in prideful anger with equal or greater force. It is humility that sees the wisdom of Jesus’ admonition to us to pray for those who persecute us, rather than responding with revenge.

A Christian’s humility is rooted in knowing oneself in relationship with God. In Jesus we have seen humility’s power and grace in the flesh. It was this humility that let go of everything, even life itself, in order to save us from the devastating and deadly, false powers of sin. The motto of this humility is expressed perfectly when Jesus says: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) This is the counter-cultural value of our Christian faith. In the light of Christ, we do not compete with, or compare ourselves to others out of arrogance and pride, rather, in the light of Christ, we are called by God to recognize all others as our brothers and sisters. We must be honest with ourselves here though. For we too often fail in this. We are not immune to the temptations of pride and arrogance, or prideful jealousy or wrath. The difference is that, when we realize that we have sinned in this way, we can turn to Jesus for his forgiveness and for the grace to “Go and sin no more.” This, too, is a wisdom that comes from the virtue of humility. I am nothing without God’s generous grace. It is from him that all good things have come to me. He is my strength and my hope. Thanks be to God.

Lord, fill our hearts, our souls, and our minds with the grace of holy humility. It is in true humility that we become strong. It is in true humility that we can become your good and faithful servants doing your will “on earth as it is done in heaven” by your angels and saints. We pray for this gift of holy humility in our daily lives in power of your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.