Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Tidbit: a "proud humility"

I'm reading H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture for a class by that name with Dr. Daniel Treier that begins this morning. Niebuhr's description of Christ's humility is striking:

"The humility of Jesus is humility before God, and can only be understood as the humility of the Son. He neither exhibited nor commended and communicated the humility of inferiority-feeling before other men. Before Pharisees, high priests, Pilate, and 'that fox' Herod he showed a confidence that had no trace of self-abnegation. Whatever my be true of his Messianic self-consciousness, he spoke with authority and acted with confidence of power. When he repudiated the title of 'Good Master' he did not defer to other rabbis better than himself, but said, 'No one is good but God alone.' There is no condescension in his life toward the sinners, such as might mark an insecure or apologetic man. His humility is of the sort that raises to a new sense of dignity and worth those who have been humiliated by the defensive pretentions of the 'good' and the 'righteous.' It is a kind of proud humility and humble pride, which can be called paradoxical only if the relation to God as the fundamental relation in his life is left out of the account. It is wholly different from all the modesties and diffidences that mark men's efforts to accommodate themselves to their own and each others' superiority-feelings, it is also wholly different from that wise Greek virtue of remaining within one's limits lest the jealous gods destroy their potential rivals. The humility of Christ is not the moderation of keeping one's exact place in the scale of being, but rather that of absolute dependence on God and absolute trust in Him, with the consequent ability to remove mountains. The secret of the meekness and the gentleness of Christ lies in his relation to God." (26–27 in the edition pictured, emphasis mine)

We often think of humility as self-abasement. But as Niebuhr points out here, true humility has nothing to do with self. True humility is rooted in "absolute dependence on God and absolute trust in Him."

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