“Our last contest is against the spirit of pride. Albeit it is the last disease we have to fight and the closing member of the list, yet in time and origin it is first of all. It is a beast most savage, and fiercer than all the other: its worst temptations attack the perfect and it devours with its most deadly bites those who have all but reached the crown and sum of all virtues.” – St. John the Cassian
Chapter two of my book is entitled: “A Beast Most Savage,” and it begins with the above quote. Here is an excerpt from later in the chapter (pages 23-24):
…A Bible dictionary entry on pride states that “The emphasis placed on pride, and its converse humility, is a distinctive feature of biblical religion, unparalleled in other religions or ethical systems.”[i] Since Christians worship the God that uniquely humbled himself by becoming human, this emphasis should not be a surprise. If God so humbled himself, certainly his followers should be humble too. The concept of “Seven Deadly Sins” can be traced back in church history, and pride is perceived as the most serious of the sins and the source of all the others. Key historical churchmen (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant alike) taught that pride was a deadly vice.
Yet when is the last time you heard a sermon series or read a biblical book explicitly about pride and humility? Maybe pride or humility is briefly touched on, but is it expounded upon in any detail? Most likely not, or it happens infrequently. It is no longer a distinctive feature of biblical religion.
The winds shifted in the twentieth century as the church increasingly came under the power of the positive thinking mentality. Of course, pride has been a problem throughout time, but in the past humility was generally admired. However, we live in a proud age where it can make us uncomfortable to speak of humility, and we worry about creating low self-esteem. A positive view of self is emphasized to the neglect of a more cautious view of ourselves. There is an odd obsession with self-esteem in our culture that will be elaborated upon in chapter seven.
I once observed outright aversion for teaching being done on Isaiah 6 which emphasized the humble state of humanity before the majestic God. We have been so taken in by the spirit of our age that this distinctive feature of biblical religion troubles us.
I’ve interacted with non-believers who clearly perceive the clash between Christianity and the message of the positivity gospel. They note its egotistical emphasis and wonder how it can possibly be combined with the teachings of Jesus–whose life reflected humble service. While far too many Christians fail to see the contradiction! It is reminiscent of 2 Timothy 4:3, where Paul warned that a time would come when Christians would neglect sound teaching, and surround themselves with teachers who cater to their desires, telling them what they want to hear.
In the creative book The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, an experienced devil gives advice to an inexperienced devil on how to tempt humans. One piece of advice is to confuse humans about what true humility is by making them think it is having a low opinion of yourself. That is not true humility; true humility is self-forgetfulness. This was indeed a sneaky tactic by these devils, to create pride by discrediting its opposite. The positive thinking mentality exploited this route of temptation. It is my hope that content in several coming chapters of this book will bring increasing clarity about Christian humility.
[i] JD Douglas, ed., New Bible Dictionary (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1982), 966.
**Bolding added and some paragraphs split to make it more conducive for online reading.**