One of the hardest sins to defeat is pride. One of the hardest virtues to acquire is humility. Yet humility is an essential virtue, for without it, all that we do is worthless.
The devil’s first sin is said to have been pride:
Isaiah 14:12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer , son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! 13 For you have said in your heart: `I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ 15 Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit.
I cannot pretend to understand what might go on in the mind of luminous angelic creature, but I can certainly see a reflection of it going on inside myself, a spirit tied to a physical and limited body. If anything, it is even more laughable for a human being to be “proud”. No wonder the devil despises us.
Humility, as I have often said, is Truth: no more, no less. The old philosopher’s adage, “Know thyself” is a thumbnail sketch of the road to true humility. If we lived in absolute truth, never once deceiving ourselves or allowing ourselves to be deceived by others, then we would live in absolute humility.
If you are anything like me, you won’t have to look very far to find humbling things about yourself. I have a comprehensive ensemble of weaknesses, faults, character flaws and a prodigious list of sins committed over the years. If anything, an honest look at myself is more likely to make me puke than proud. If that were the end of the story, I’d be pretty miserable about myself and about life. But thankfully it is not the end of the story.
There is another side to each of us that we also need to be brutally honest about. There is the good side. Each and every one of us was made by God, and as the old saying goes, “God doesn’t make junk”. That means that underneath my corrupt and sinful nature, there is the seed of a heavenly being, an eternal spirit that is capable of seeing God. This beautiful creature lives inside even the most evil of sinners in this world, struggling constantly to break free and shine. Occasionally, I let mine out, and those are my best moments, moments of compassion, or unselfishness, or self-sacrificing honesty.
There is no pride in this beautiful creature within – how can I be proud about something I had nothing to do with? St Paul explains this logically;
“For who makes you differ from another?
And what do you have that you did not receive?
Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Follow his argument, and you see how much sense it makes. If I am better than others in some way, then it is because of the gifts I was born with, gifts given to me by Another. So who deserves the praise for those gifts in me? Why should I pretend that I am the maker of the gifts and hog all the praise, when that is clearly not the case?
In fact, there is a profound peace to be found in acknowledging this very basic truth. One of the Desert Fathers described his spiritual state thus:
“When I have succeeded, I lay my past sins before my eyes and remind myself of how easily I fall without the help of God, and thus I avoid foolish pride.
And when I have failed and feel down, I say to myself; Yet God still loves me, and His love lifts me up again from my fall.”
This is the tightrope we walk every day of our lives: foolish pride to the one side, miserable despair to the other. But for those who manage to keep their balance, the feeling is exhilirating! Tightrope walkers use a long pole held horizontally in their hands to help them keep their balance. My pole has one word engraved on it in strong, gold letters …