“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus of Nazareth
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”
There are at least two steps to following Jesus. Step one: die to yourself. Step two: live for God, humbly serving him.
For a guy like me who struggles against pride, humble service ain’t easy. But through years of struggle, I have many thoughts about it.
In the Latin, humility means “low-lying” and to humble means “to make low.” Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride is exaltation above one’s actual position.
Pride was the fundamental sin of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve believed the Serpent’s lie that they knew better than God. God had warned them not to eat the forbidden fruit lest they die, but by their actions Adam and Eve insisted that God was wrong and they were right. At its core, their sin was placing themselves in the position of God, the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.
Pride is the father of all other sins. It’s fundamentally rebellion against God and his ways. It twists and distorts and lies and steals. In contrast, humility reflects the way things really are.
To make ourselves low before God reflects the right and true order of the universe. As creatures made from dust, we’re contingent beings. Our first cause is God himself who willed us into existence and on whom we depend for our every breath. We don’t truly possess any good thing. Every good thing we have is ultimately derived from God. Wealth, health, intelligence, beauty, personality—all comes from the Great I Am, the Creator of all that is. Therefore, humility is right because it reflects the true order of the universe.
If there were no God, humility would be stupid. If there’s no First Cause that brought all things into being, and if matter is eternal and humans are random accidents, then we owe nothing to anyone. To suppose otherwise would be a lie. We could then justly be proud.
Atheist philosopher Ayn Rand’s books on the virtue of selfishness testify to that. Rand believed humankind was the center of the universe. She saw selflessness as weak and wrong, because it denies humanity’s nobility:
Discard the protective rags of that vice which you call a virtue: humility—learn to value yourself, which means: to fight for your happiness—and when you learn that pride is the sum of all virtues, you will learn to live like a man (179).
To Rand, humility denies the truth of our existence. And if there is no God, Rand is right. Why pretend to be servants when we are masters?
The fifth-century-B.C. philosopher Protagoras said, “Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not.” The French Enlightenment celebrated this humanistic creed, rejecting transcendent truth as illusory. Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously declared God dead, inveighed against humility as an agent for the weak to suppress the strong. It’s logical for those who disbelieve in God to reject humility. Indeed, if there is no God, man is the greatest sentient being in all the world and humility is a lie. Self-worship makes sense.
Like all powerful lies, there’s truth mixed in. We are noble creatures. We were made to be bold and independent and courageous, facing life’s challenges with gusto and vision.
Ayn Rand’s heroes in her novels stand against the prevailing group-think that makes too many people timid, risk-averse, and conformists. They’re willing to challenge conventional wisdom and pursue their plans against long odds. They have the courage to eschew the praise of the crowd for the satisfaction that comes from pursuing a dream. I love Rand’s heroes for these admirable traits.
But if God exists, then pride is a lie and humility is the truth.