Grace Beyond the Noise

"For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or common sense. In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that -- and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison -- you do not know God at all. He wants you to be delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you unhappy and restless all your life. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel we are good -- above all, that we are better than someone else -- I think we may be sure that we are being acted on not by God but by the devil... If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." - C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity

Lewis confronts us with a poetic and insightful comment on the nature of pride and its insidiousness. The more I become familiar with the Christian tradition, the more I realize it does not fit into any of the boxes that I once thought - or the boxes that often get nailed around it.

Self-righteousness is the opposite of a Christian virtue. A Christian is to live every day in light of God's reality, who is "immeasurably superior to yourself" and is most perfectly revealed in the unmerited love of God in Christ. Yet to learn Christianity from its loudest proponents today is to learn it from our culture's most self-righteous public personas.

On the other hand, humility that claims nothing for itself is actually a false humility that just as much denies God's reality and God's action in Christ. It implies that God has not given us enough to hope in, not given us enough reason to love, not given us enough security to forgive. Lewis has pride in his crosshairs, but the ugly cousin that is perhaps getting louder in our culture is the false humility of tolerance. Saying that all religions make the same essential claims is ironically just as self-righteous as claiming one Truth because it too assumes a privileged position that can see all. Universalism, though often good-intentioned, tends to dehumanize and disrespect our particularities. As the old metaphor goes - if all religions are like blind mice grasping up at different parts of an elephant (whether we call it "God", "Nature", "the One", etc.), then who is so privileged to know it's an elephant?

True humility doesn't erase our differences, it respects them, tries to understand them, and listens even when there's mutual exclusivity. Christian humility is a lack of confidence in one's self, for the sake of greater confidence in the One who so wonderfully redeems us, "all to the praise of His glorious grace." Soft-spoken, yet strong; meek, yet steadfast; satisfied yet always thirsty. These are the classic virtues that stem from biblical humility - what Lewis calls being "delightedly humble."

What does this have to do with the world today? Political coverage can't help but describe self-professed Christians as ambassadors of all that is Christianity. Yet, with Christianity as with any other religion, there is far much more to the story than is included in a soundbite. What I find unique here is how the discourse is utterly opposite to the heart of Christianity. Whether it's the prosperity gospel, thanking Jesus for touchdowns, or identifying Christ with one political party, we have forgotten that Christians are called to worship a crucified Jewish Messiah, who never fit in, who never gained worldly status, and whose power is not of this world. Yet through the Cross he overcomes all oppression and offers unimaginable joy and peace!

It would be disgusting for me to self-righteously denounce all the self-righteous Christians; or to proudly preach about real humility. What I hope to do is take on the posture of the Christian "herald" - one who comes to proclaim the earth-shattering, glorious, so-good-I-can't-keep-it-in news of God's forgiveness and love in Christ for all who are willing to put to death their old lives of sin, and trust him. We're the newscasters, Jesus is the news. We witness to what Someone else did - and God forbid we take credit! Our church happened to put together this video that tries to express such a sentiment. Whether or not it does so successfully, all those who see in themselves Lewis' diagnosis - unable to get out of the trap of not thinking you're conceited, only to realize just how badly you are - are invited to hear Christ say, "come, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." I know I need that.