Love Is Not Proud, by Pastor Geoff
In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis dedicates an entire chapter to what he calls “The Great Sin.”
I’ll give you one guess what that great sin is.
Lewis writes this: “According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
Tradition tells us (as Lewis points out) that it was pride that got Satan cast out of heaven. He couldn’t handle the fact that God was God and he was not.
In Genesis 3, Satan tempts Adam and Eve by playing on this same insecurity. His promise to them: “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
And ever since, our pride, our “anti-God state of mind,” has alienated us from the one who made us and loves us.
Lewis goes on to explain why he understands pride to be the worst of the vices. It is because “Pride is essentially competitive…while the other vices are competitive, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.”
Pride pits us against one another. It tempts us to compare. It tempts us to covet. It tempts us to wish ill upon others in the hope that their failure will somehow cause us to look better.
Pride is self-obsessed and it is ugly.
This past Sunday, we celebrated Easter. When you read the various versions of the Easter story there’s a theme that emerges. In Mark’s gospel, the disciples refuse to believe Mary’s testimony that Jesus has risen, and they continue to doubt even after two other disciples (presumably the two Jesus met on the Emmaus road) back up Mary’s claim. In John’s gospel, Thomas is absent when Jesus first appears to his disciples. And he refuses to believe that Jesus is risen until he’s seen the Lord with his own two eyes.
On one level, the disciples’ skepticism is understandable. People don’t just rise from the dead. That’s not a thing.
Except that it is.
Because with their own eyes, they saw Lazarus walk out of the tomb. And with their own ears they heard Jesus explain that he must suffer, die and, on the third day, rise from the dead. He’d been pretty clear on that point.
So why their hardness of heart when it comes to believing that Jesus has risen?
Well, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that their pride might have had something to do with it. After all, these are the same disciples who bickered about who was the greatest among them, who even got their mom involved (Really, James and John?) to make sure they got the prime positions in Jesus’ coming kingdom.
It’s easy to imagine that there are some wounded egos when the news of Jesus’ resurrection comes to them via a woman and two disciples who were not part of the inner circle. Surely, if Jesus were really alive, he would make sure to come to them first, right?
The Apostle Paul says that love rejoices in the truth. And if ever there were a truth to rejoice in, the truth of the resurrection would be it. But instead the disciples get hung up on the fact that that truth is coming to them on someone else’s lips and not from Jesus himself.
Pride is the enemy of love. A prideful person cannot love, because a prideful person cannot see beyond himself. She cannot generate concern for anyone but herself. Everything and everyone becomes a means to their end of bolstering their ego.
The antidote to pride is, of course, humility.
Humility is maybe the most slippery virtue. It’s the one that, as soon as we’ve achieved a measure of it, can quickly become a point of pride and evaporate.
The thing is humility is often misunderstood. We tend to think of someone who is humble as being self-effacing. They play down their accomplishments. They make themselves out to be less than they really are.
But that’s not actually what humility is about.
There’s a quote that’s often misattributed to C. S. Lewis probably because it lines up well with what Lewis actually wrote. It is: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Tim Keller picks up on this when he describes humility as “self-forgetfulness.” It’s the virtue of being so secure in yourself and in your relationship to God and the world that you become forgetful of yourself. And it’s only when we forget ourselves, when we remove ourselves from the center of the stage, that we can see beyond ourselves to love God and our neighbor.
Of course, true humility is hard. Impossible even, aside from God’s grace.
And so thank God for grace. Thank God for Jesus, who did not consider equality with God something to grasp for, but emptied (forgot?) himself, became incarnate, suffered, died and rose. All for us.
In this Eastertide, may the resurrection life of Jesus take root in us, producing in and among us the same kind of humility that made possible our salvation.
Where have you seen pride hindering love in your life or in the world around you?
What truths have you been slow to accept because of your pride?
Who is someone in your life you would describe as humble? What makes you think of them that way?
What are some ways that you could cultivate greater humility?