A former student called and asked me about humility. Which in itself surprised me because I don’t think he called me because he thought I was particularly humble. Its lack in my life, however, didn’t stop me from ruminating with him about it. How, he was asking, do we get humility?
I don’t know any kind of history of discussion on this, but here were my basic points and I’d be glad to hear what you have to say.
First, I find the Western theological tradition from Augustine on quite concerned with humility because of the development (over-development in my view) of total depravity, and it comes to fruition in such spiritual writers like Fenelon and Andrew Murray and the Keswick Convention folks and the Total Surrender folks. But, while I am sure that apprehending our sinfulness in important to humility, an obsession with our sinfulness doesn’t produce humility. It produces guilt. And that ain’t the same thing as humility, my friends.
Second, I find the Eastern theological tradition from Athanasius on quite unconcerned with humility, but I find a great deal of sweet humility in that tradition. It’s focus in theology on the life that overwhelms death is a positive force in creating humility — and I’m not idealizing the Eastern thinkers here.
Here’s a point: trying to create humility by grace grinding doesn’t get the job done; humility, to be sure, springs from our sinfulness but it is essentially something characteristic of Adam and Eve before the Fall and not simply a post-sin attribute. Think about that some. Before the Fall Adam and Eve were bathed in humility — instinctually, one might say.
Humility, I am suggesting, is a comprehension of who we are before God and before self and before others and before the world. When we know who we are before God, self, others, and the world, we are humble — and part of that comprehension is our cracked-ness. But, focusing on our cracks does not inevitably produce humility. Humility is a positive; sinfulness is a negative. We need to move beyond the negative to the positive if we are to have humility.
Humility is noted by joy, and graciousness, and love, and honor and the like.
Well, any thoughts?