The core sin of humankind could be said to be pride. In the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, the serpent (Satan) tempts the couple with becoming “like unto God”, that is, usurping their nature as creatures to somehow become on a par with their Creator. This impossible ambition nonetheless appealed to their pride, their ego. So it can be said from biblical testimony that sin entered the world because of human pride, and every other sin and evil that besets us is fundamentally derived from this first and causal sin of pride.
What then is the antidote to pride? We need to do the opposite of what Adam and Eve did. That is essentially to admit and reassert our nature as creatures, utterly dependent on the One who created us. In other words, to ‘eat a slice of humble pie’ and recognise our littleness in comparison to God’s majesty. We need to value and strive to embrace humility.
Even for those who do not accept that God exists, this antidote of humility can still be construed as accepting humanity’s place in the world, that is, we are not the overlords of nature although that is largely how we have behaved and consequently we now fear the damage of climate change and species destruction. And from an astronomical perspective, humanity is perched on a small and relatively insignificant planet on the fringes of just one galaxy among innumerable other galaxies. Astronomer Carl Sagan put this much better than me in his famous address on the ‘pale blue dot’.
Humanity is clever, resourceful and powerful, and has dominated its world, even to the point of setting foot on the moon – and has ambitions to go further and even colonise other planets. But that very ability that sets us apart from other animals also means we are prone to pride and overreaching. Who among us would deny that? Surely all the wars and bloodshed in human history testify to man’s capacity for prideful folly? Even for non believers we can assert that humankind should adopt an essential humility in regard to our place in the world, and in our dealings with one another.
Humility is therefore fundamentally an attitude of realism: recognising our relative littleness in the great scheme of things. But being realistic does not come easily to us!
From a religious perspective, humility is simply recognising that we are human and God is God. In this we acknowledge that all we have and are is gift of God, even to the very breath we take. Moreover, we have to admit that we cannot ever ‘capture’ the mystery of God – as St Augustine stated: “If you think you understand it (God), then it is not God.”
Unfortunately it has to be admitted that religion is often guilty of the very opposite of humility and it can easily feed our innate pride and selfishness. Many religious folk claim to have the ‘whole truth’, but their view of God is actually constructed from their own political, social and religious prejudices. It is then very difficult to talk to people who claim to have divine truth and who consequently are closed to any alternative viewpoints. Jesus Himself criticised the Pharisees for this very arrogance.
As the often quoted passage from Micah states:
“This is what God asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8)
Not a bad motto for daily life.
The native Americans had a similar wisdom – always to walk in a sacred manner.
We should value and strive after humility. This is the core attitude for recognising and accepting the Kingdom in this world. It is not weakness and lack of knowledge to accept that we are ‘little’ compared to God, that we can scarcely begin to understand His ways, and that we should admit to a ‘holy hesitancy’ in our dealings with one another. How often do we stop and try and discern God’s will before we act?
Let me finish with another short verse from scripture:
“The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds.” (Sirach 35: 21 – 23)
in His love,