Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Greatest Sin

In the Christian lexicon, pride is the greatest sin. Indeed, it is the root of all other sins. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes that “it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”

What is pride? Lewis writes, “Pride always means enmity — it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.” He says, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.”

Lewis explains this in more detail. “We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-locking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.” He says that pride is unlike yielding to our physical appetites. “It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly.”

Humility is the opposite of pride. But it seems that the common understanding of this term differs from its meaning in Christian doctrine. In this respect, humility means properly understanding and respecting our relationship with God and with our fellowmen.

Lewis explains that a truly humble individual would not be smarmy and self-abasing. If you were to meet a truly humble individual, he asserts, “all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. … He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

I’m not sure that I completely agree with Lewis. After all, Christians believe that the most humble person to ever walk the earth was Jesus Christ. He did much that drew attention to himself. Some considered Him arrogant. He certainly had no problem making people feel uncomfortable. What would we think of anyone that went around today saying that he was “meek and lowly of heart,” (Matt. 11:29)? Yet when Jesus did so, we assert that He was merely being honest.

So, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a truly humble person (according to Christian thought) seeks to do God’s will, regardless of the earthly consequences. We might not consider a truly humble person to be a “cheerful, intelligent chap.” It would depend on the situation.

Lewis cautions about a particular problem for people of faith. It is quite possible for them to be actively religious and yet filled with pride. When we do this, he says, we “are worshiping an imaginary God.” Such people “are really imagining how [God] approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people.” Lewis goes on to say:
“Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good — above all, that we are better than someone else — I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the Devil.”
Well, I think that most religious people are hoping that their life is making them good — making them better than what they would be otherwise. But we cross the line when we start to feel superior to others by virtue of our religious life. Indeed, my church teaches that each person is a child of God and that we should love each to the point of desiring the best for them and doing what is in our power to make that happen.

The point of forsaking pride and seeking humility is to arrive at a state where we can come to know God. Lewis writes, “He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble — delightedly humble …. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible.”

I very much enjoy reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on pride in chapter 8 of Book III in Mere Christianity. The entire chapter is worth reading and pondering.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for these comments. I love Lewis's Mere Christianity. He does a great job outlining many gospel principles.

I am sure you are aware of Pres. Benson's talk Beware of Pride. It is an excellent source for understanding of Pride. And he quotes Lewis as well. Just thought that I would share just in case you haven't read it before.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Yes, Pres. Benson's pride talk is another classic. Reading through these things gives me some appreciation for my own haughtiness.

Anonymous said...

Even if Lewis' description of a humble man is not fully accurate I think he got he definition right that "humility means properly understanding and respecting our relationship with God and with our fellowmen."

I think that true humility is as subtle as pride which is why it's so hard to nail down what a truly humble person would be like (besides the fact that there are so few examples). I do think you are right to suggest that they are more concerned with doing what is right by God than with the reactions of the world.