Posted by: 15shekels | August 25, 2009

Foolish Pride

Scrooge McDuck - Christmas Carol[2]_2 “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says, ‘By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.'” -Isaiah 10:12-13

“Oh there are those who remain proud and fierce even in hell, in spite of their certain knowledge and contemplation of irrefutable truth…For they have cursed themselves by cursing God and life. They feed on their wicked pride, as if a hungry man in the desert were to start sucking his own blood from his body.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov, “Talks and Homilies”.

“Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake … What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ — could set up on their own as if they had created themselves — be their own masters — invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. “The Shocking Alternative.”

I have been thinking a lot about pride lately. Perhaps it’s because I have been thinking a lot about marriage, and am beginning to suspect that the root of all marital strife is none other than stubborn pride. I see it in the patterns that my fiance and I are already falling into — a mild disagreement escalates rapidly into a cold war, because suddenly the only thing in the world that matters is being right. In those moments I glimpse the fruits of pride — hatred, manipulation and resentment. I love this Brothers Karamazov quote because it captures so precisely what stewing in pride feels like: I feed on my wicked pride, even when I realize I am up against irrefutable truth. The point ceases to be truth, and becomes victory, even an undeserved one.

Whenever we have a disagreement, I go into lawyer mode. I start building an argument, supporting it with examples, looking for holes in my opponent’s case. I work myself into a state of hating both of us, even when (especially when) I “win”. Then there is the waiting period when I know I should apologize and don’t. Finally when I can’t bear it anymore I crawl back and admit my wrong, and immediately the tension is severed and falls to the ground, and I feel like I can breathe again.

Pride is perhaps the most dangerous sin because it keeps us from coming to God, from admitting that we need Him. I imagine this is why when Jesus walked on earth he spent far more time criticizing the proud Pharisees than the prostitutes or thieves. The Pharisees saw God’s law as a formula for achieving salvation. Thus, when they kept the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath, they patted themselves on the back and smugly pitied those who weren’t good enough to make it. Jesus saw through their facades to the hypocrisy underneath when he quoted Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” -Isaiah 29:13.

We must look so silly to God! He has created us, breathed life into us, given us every gift that we have — whether beauty, intelligence, humor, or charisma — and we take our gifts and run. We are like little children on Christmas who grab their presents, run into a corner, and play with them possessively, then strut around lording them over their friends as if they had created them. We have squandered all of our opportunity, all of our gifts, by each (every single one of us) falling into sin and cutting ourselves off from the source of life and joy, from God. And then, despite our foolishness and pride, Jesus came down to clean up our mess and offer us a way back to God, a way back to life and joy. Anyone who makes it back to God does so wholly on Jesus’ merits, and not our own, for “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

So we have two camps. There are those who refuse to follow Jesus back to God because they prefer their own way, their own path. This is usually rooted in pride, and it is tragic. But even more absurd (if not as tragic) are those who have recognized their depravity and accepted Christ’s gift, who know that they are saved by grace not good works, and still find themselves constantly stewing in foolish pride. I am astonished by my density at times.

If there were such thing as “earning” the right to be proud, what might we need to achieve to get there? Probably power, wealth, kindness, moral goodness… Has anyone earned the right to boast?

One person has: “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.” -Hebrews 3:3.

Power? Jesus was there at the creation of the world, has conquered death, and will return one day to defeat evil and reign forever.

Wealth? He has created the world and owns everything in it.

Kindness? Jesus doesn’t just do favors for us. He has died for us, suffered in our place, so that we can experience joy and eternal life.

Moral goodness? Jesus is the only one who has attained sinlessness — moral perfection.

And yet despite His merits, He led a life of total humility. There’s a thought to silence pride’s grumbling.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” -Philippians 2:5-8

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