Pride. Many times in Christian history, pride has been pointed to as an egregious sin--one of the worst, if not the worst, of all sins. It's one of the seven deadly sins, a list which partly originated from the desert fathers and mothers of the 3rd and 4th centuries.
Much more recently, Tim Challies wrote a blog entry entitled, "God Hates Pride": https://www.challies.com/articles/god-hates-pride/ in his "What God Hates" series. In it, he references Proverbs 6, where pride tops a scriptural list of seven deadly sins. Challies writes, "Pride is first an attitude of independence from God...No vice is more opposed to God. God hates pride because it is a manifestation of the deepest depravity, the root cause of all forms of sin." He goes on to quote C.S. Lewis:
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.
And yet, when I looked to access a recent book on pride, I couldn't locate a single one in my home library (which, as friends who helped us to move this year, wryly commented is getting pretty extensive!). Looking at recent publication lists, I don't see a single juggernaut book from Christian sellers on the topic in recent years (although there are some interesting academic ones on the seven deadly sins). Calling out the present generation on pride apparently doesn't sell well. Unlike C.S. Lewis, today we arguably elevate the "fleabite" sins over the ubiquitous sin of pride. How can we call out something that we all struggle with to some extent? It's much easier to point out other sins...And yet, pride has been identified as being practical atheism. So, uh, a pretty big deal for those who profess to, you know, not be atheists. As Psalm 10:4 says,
In his pride, the wicked does not seek him; in all this thoughts, there is no room for God.
Many Christians call out the LGBTQ+ movement for sexual behaviors but largely miss the issue of "pride" being the hallmark value espoused by the movement. As Rosaria Butterfield writes in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith, idolatry is arguably the root sin of any sin of identity. More on this later.
We have finally reached the end of the section of Isaiah that covers various woes and prophesies against various nations. The last one, in Isaiah 23, is Tyre, the leading city of Phoenicia. Some may recall learning about Phoenicia in history class back in the day, and their alphabet, which significantly simplified writing from the earlier pictograph forms. Phoenicia was also known for being a "master of the sea," with a prominent merchant class.
No unchastity, anger, greed, or drunkenness is mentioned in the prophecy against Tyre. They come across as a hard-working rather capitalistic people. What's the issue? Smack dab in the middle, in verse 9, we see this:
The Lord Almighty planned it, to bring low the pride of all glory and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.
The Hebrew word that is translated in English as "to bring low," is "chalel," and it means to pierce through and make common. Some English translations emphasize the "to make common" part and say, "to stain the pride." Basically, God is going to pop their comfortable bubble of wealth and security, which they have put their trust in. Twice in this single verse, Isaiah sarcastically references Tyre's exulted status among players on the world's stage: they're the "pride of all glory" and the "renowned on the earth." Both today and then, we may think that our behavior is neutral, that if we're going about our business and are not hurting others and are not doing the more in-your-face sins, then we're fine. However, James 4:6 says,
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Pride is not neutral, and it's not exemplary. It's unfortunate that some groups have been so downtrodden and oppressed that "pride" is the best word they can choose to elevate their self-view and others' view of them. Black pride, gay pride, self pride...some of this emphasis stems from the unfortunate fact that many have experienced significant physical, social, and emotional abuse. As a women, I believe that many of us also struggle to appropriately share our voices, veering from overly meek self-abasement to brash assertion in an effort to be heard. Many struggle deeply with negative views of self.
However, the world's answer to dig deep, find your true self, and shout it out loud and proud runs counter to what we see in Scripture. And, the Bible, contrary to widespread opinion, is not a rule book full of checklists to follow to appease a divine entity in the sky who is constantly judging us. On the contrary, God's word is a pathway to freedom, with guidelines on how to become our true selves in wholeness and completeness in Him. Many so-called rules (take the Sermon on the Mount, for example) are actually statements of what is--what is true, what would make life better on earth, what would bring wholeness and completeness to ourselves and our relationships if we lived this way.
Happily, both sacred and secular sources show that there is a better way than the way of pride. Humility is not a popular concept today. However, it is so very close to an idea that is: being grounded. The English word humility comes from the Latin humilitas--one who is grounded or near the earth. The word humus is related, and we learn in Genesis that this humus or earth is what we were created from. We are simultaneously the crown of creation and earth-bound creatures.
Tim Burkett, contributing to the HuffPost in the article, "The Wisdom of Humility" (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-wisdom-of-humility_b_10437020) writes:
"Humility allows you to go all the way to the fertile ground, not stick up like you’re some big deal because you’ve got something that others don’t have... The more naturally humble you are the more confident you are. It’s not a childish, arrogant confidence that is based on some accomplishment that you are proud of. Relaxed confidence doesn’t depend on accomplishment because it is the parent of accomplishment not the child of it. You don’t have to be right all the time. If you worry about being right then you have a very fragile confidence. But with humility your confidence is steady, it can withstand turbulent times when things don’t go the way you thought they would. When you fall down you just get up. Falling down is no problem. Asking for help is no problem. Confidence without humility is heavy, so heavy that it’s hard to get up when you’ve fallen. It tells you that failure means you can’t do it. You’re embarrassed and even ashamed to ask for help because that means you’re not good enough. Confidence without humility is rigid. It breaks easily because it is clinging to something specific."
There's much wisdom here, and the phrase, "You don't have to be right all the time," definitely jumps out at me. Why do some of us-- many of us, maybe all of us--feel this pressure? Where does that come from? Why do we feel like we need to have all the answers? What arrogance to think that we even could!
Scripture and science together are perfectly aligned to show that humility is better for us than pride. Numerous studies (Here's a few: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10100837/, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24444431, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1022860110768) show that excessive self-preoccupation is linked with poor mental health and poor relationship quality. This is so well-established that the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Healthy Minds asks, "Is Humility the Soil for Happiness to Grow?" (https://centerhealthyminds.org/join-the-movement/is-humility-the-soil-for-happiness-to-grow) One of the Center's scientists is quoted as saying, " A lower focus on the self also means that one’s happiness is less conditional and more enduring, as it is less tied to the triumphs and tribulations of the ego." They define humility as, "the ability to see oneself in true perspective and be at peace with it" and include three components: healthy relationship to oneself, healthy relationship to others, and a healthy relationship to reality.
We all know this when we see it. How refreshing it is when we encounter someone who exemplifies this type of humility. It's almost enticing, making you want to be around that person even more. Shouldn't we want this for ourselves, and turn away from the dead end that pride brings us to? I'll close with theologian John Stott's take on this:
Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.