But there is a pride that displeases God and brings judgment. It is characterized by the human heart’s perverse inclination to compete with the Almighty, and in effect to be godlike.
Alan Richardson writes: “According to the Bible (and to classical Christian moral teaching) pride is the very root and essence of sin. Sinfulness consists essentially in the rebellious pride which attributes to itself the honor and glory that are due to God.” (A Theological Word Book of the Bible.)
To recognize this pride we start where the Bible starts. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). This opening sentence divides all existence into two distinct realities: the Creator and the created — God, who exists eternally and rules over all, and all else he has created to exist in time, utterly dependent upon his favor.
Adam and Eve were in the second category. They were his creatures, settled in the beautiful Garden of Eden with a large freedom in God’s creation, but with one restriction: they were forbidden to eat fruit from a certain tree. Eve’s conversation with the talking serpent, Satan, and Adam’s willing participation led the couple to yield to the Evil One’s enticement: Disobey your Creator, he pressed; eat of the forbidden fruit and “You will be like God.”
From then on the Old Testament shows that pride — this impulse to be God’s competitors and to make false gods that were more easily controlled — caused the repeated downfall of God’s chosen people. They rejected God; turned again and again to idols, and committed the sins their idolatry encouraged. This brought judgment leading eventually to exile in foreign lands.
For example in a time of great peril for Judah, under succeeding attacks from neighboring states, the prophet Isaiah said to wicked king Ahaz: Ask the Lord for a sign. In spite of the devastation, Ahaz would not humble himself before Almighty God. He replied, I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test (Isaiah 7:10-12). Although this left Judah wasted Ahaz was unyielding.
For us, pride may be found to exert itself hiddenly in a score of situations — in family conflicts, workplace tensions, human authority issues, self-preoccupation, congregational conflicts, even divisive theological differences, and these may each be traceable to a prideful reach by us to be on top, even godlike.
For Christians, this is the pride which, if not addressed at Christ’s cross often, will infect our effectiveness and diminish our service to the Kingdom. St. Paul knew this to be so. He wrote, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). In this way, Paul and other New Testament writers address the remnants of human pride in two ways — first in repeatedly calling our attention to the example of our Lord himself, and second, in exhorting all believers to seek humility.
Jesus, our Messiah, humbled himself. He was born in a cattle stall, of a young virgin, and a surrogate father, a carpenter. As a growing child he was obedient to these parents (Luke 2:51); although he was sinless, at the outset of his ministry he insisted on being baptized, taking the position of a sinner to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-17); he washed his disciples’ feet when the disciples appeared to place themselves above such a task (John 13:4-10); above it all he yielded himself to an excruciating crucifixion — for others (Matthew 27:32-50). And rightly he said of himself, I am meek and lowly in spirit (Matthew 11:29).
So with all this in mind, St. Peter wrote to Christians scattered by persecution: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time (1 Peter 5:6). To Jewish Christians, St. James quoted wisdom from the proverbs: God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6,10).
And St. Paul offered the young congregation at Philippi this exhortation: In your relationship with one another have this same mindset as Christ Jesus: And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by being obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6).
For Christians, in every part of our lives, pride is the sin that blinds and tends to open us to sinful attitudes and conduct. Pride must therefore be radically confronted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit awakens us to this reality we are moved to meditate on the example of our Lord, to repent and deepen our faith in Him, and to pray for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to make us victors over the pride that blinds.
Photo credit: (Michael via flickr.com)