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The Wardrobe of Easter: Humility

St. Paul commended it as a resurrection virtue. A humble person is within a millimeter of becoming like Christ himself, who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped… but humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross!”

In his Purgatorio, the poet Dante depicts the proud as bent over double by the weight of heavy stones and boulders they carry on their backs. No longer are they able to look up at anyone, not even toward God himself. Comments C.S. Lewis about the proud: “Those who look down all the time will not look up to find God.”

Pride is camel-nosed: high-blown, puffed-up, stiff-necked, aloof, lofty, inaccessible, seeking to tower over others. The dictionary description of pride is apt: “inordinate self-esteem, unreasonable conceit of superiority, egotism, self-glorification, selfishness, vainglory.”

And one more: “vanity.”

Yes, vanity. When the Lord asked Adam in the garden, “Where are you?,” he asked not because he didn’t know. God was scolding. Lost from God, Adam also had lost his bearings. No longer did he know where he was, nor where he should go.

The punishment for vanity? According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was so handsome that he fell in love with his own image. He kept gazing at it so long in a reflecting pool that eventually he started to waste away. But he kept on looking, not because the image was handsome any longer, but simply because it was his.

People curved in on themselves are headed in hell’s direction. In hell they shrivel up.

With good reason, therefore, Christians warn stiffly against pride. Pride ranks among the deadliest, most debilitating of the seven cardinal sins.

Hear John Calvin’s stern assessment: “For such is the blindness with which we all rush into self-love that each one of us seems to himself to have just cause to be proud of himself and to despise all others in comparison….Hence arises such insolence that each one of us, as if exempt from the common lot, wishes to tower above the rest, and loftily and savagely abuses every mortal man, or at least looks down on him as an inferior….[E]ach individual, by flattering himself, bears a kind of kingdom in his breast.”

On the other hand, Christians are quick to applaud pride’s opposite, humility. St. Augustine claimed that the three key virtues for living as Christ intends are: “1. Humility 2. Humility 3. Humility.” St. Paul commended it as a resurrection virtue. (cf Colossians 3.12, Ephesians 4.2) A humble person is within a millimeter of becoming like Christ himself, who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped… but humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross!” (cf Phil. 2.5-8)

A Christian displays humility toward God in at least three ways:

1. She aims to acknowledge God as God.

She is aware of the infinite gap between the God and herself. The keener her awareness of the distance, the greater her humility.

Given the infinity of distance—the holiness and glory—which separates God from his creatures, a humble Christian approaches God with due reverence and honor (the Biblical word is “fear”). Every time a Biblical person had an encounter with God—Moses , Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Mary, Peter, John, to name but a few—she or he fell to their knees and bowed in deep humility.

Enveloped by flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder which burst forth from God’s throne, the 24 elders and four living creatures cried out:

“Holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty,
Who was, and is, and is to come.”

Then they fell on their faces to the ground, and worshiped him. (cf Revelation 5) They could not do otherwise. God’s exalted presence, his cloud of heavy glory, compelled them to acknowledge their small smallness and God’s great greatness. Then they bowed toward the ground, a gesture appropriate to humility (humus in Latin, “dirt,” from which “humility” comes.)

2. She aims to trust and obey God amid (all of) her life’s (frequently turbulent and baffling) circumstances.

What great humility it takes for a Christian resolutely to believe—and boldly to confess:

Though God’s wise and loving purpose
Clearly now I may not see,
Yet I believe, by grace through faith,
All shall work for good to me.

3. She aims to submit to the authority of God’s Word.

Jesus declared unequivocally: “The Scriptures cannot be broken.” (Cf. John 10.35) He himself submitted humbly to God’s Word, and he calls his followers to do likewise, gladly and ungrudgingly.

Human tradition, human theologizing, even (one’s own) human experience—none of these may trump God’s will expressed in his Word. A mark of Christian humility, therefore, is to affirm that the Scriptures take precedence over human tradition, human thinking, and human experience; and not vice versa. (No insignificant claim to make—and practice to follow!—in a self-maximizing, self-aggrandizing, and self-centered era as ours.)

When Christians congregate to worship God on Sunday morning, they hear God calling them to hear his Word and seek his help to set their life’s bearings straight again. Reminding them of his care, he issues his holy summons: “I am the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, ….You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20.1-2). There he reminds them of his august presence: “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.” (Ps. 99.). There he teaches them what brings him delight: “To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.8).

There, too, the Lord adds his promise: “The Lord gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5.5)

Theological Reflection:

“To fear the Lord is not to be afraid of him, but to stand in awe of his majesty and be disposed to do his bidding.” (Henry Stob)

Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
who were and art and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye made blind by sin thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea;
holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty, 
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Words: Reginald Heber, 1827, alt., P.D.

The Wardrobe of Easter Series

This series was written to be read in the following order: