The elusiveness of humility

One of the often-repeated principles in the bible is humility. We meet it again this Sunday in James 4: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (v. 6), ‘Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up’ (v.10).

However, the difficulty with humility is that it’s so hard to achieve. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis creates a fictional correspondence between two demons outlining the strategies to be employed to harm a young Christian man, their ‘patient’.

The secret of humility is to never stray too far from the cross.

‘Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride – pride at his own humility – will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt – and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.’

It seems that humility can’t be achieved. Lewis goes on to define humility as self-forgetfulness. When you meet a humble person, you don’t leave thinking, ‘What a humble person.’ You leave thinking, ‘That person was really interested in me.’ Humility is not falsely thinking that our abilities are less valuable than they are. It’s a self-forgetfulness which means we’re not continually self-evaluating or comparing ourselves to those around us.

So how do we attain this self-forgetfulness?

The secret of humility is to never stray too far from the cross. The cross reminds us that we are more sinful than we can ever imagine, thus destroying our pride. However, it also tells us that we are more loved than we could ever believe. The more we look at the cross and contemplate the excellencies of Jesus, the more we become captivated by him and forgetful of ourselves. We begin to love what he loves, having the same concerns as his concerns.


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