On Pride and Humility

I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about humility in the past year or so. Longer than a year actually. I’m a junior in college now, and I’ve been pondering humility since maybe my senior year in high school. A while back, I started praying for it.

But what was I actually praying for? To be honest, I had no idea, not then. (And do I really know now? Probably not completely.) I just knew it was a good thing to pray for.

Humility is the opposite of pride. Having humility doesn’t mean that you have to put yourself down all the time or something like that. And of course it’s fine for you to feel good about yourself and to have self-confidence. I think that what separates self-confidence from pride is one simple concept: Truth.

Maybe you do really well in math class. You don’t have to internally pretend that you are bad at math for the sake of humility. The truth is that you’re good at math. And you can be self-confident about that. Self-confidence becomes pride when you somehow think that you’re a more worthwhile human being due to your talent in math, that you’re above others. The truth is that all are equal before God and that your skills in math are gifts from God.

This sort of pride is easy to recognize in our own lives. I think that the majority of easily-recognizable sins tend to be indicative of some deeper spiritual issue. What I mean is, feeling cocky about your talents is just scratching the surface of the abyss that is pride.

When I was a freshman in college, I read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity over a break. I was particularly struck by this passage about pride and humility:

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

This passage has been fermenting in my mind since then. I was surprised that C.S. Lewis considered pride the most central sin of the entire spiritual life. What could he mean by that? In the past couple of years, I’ve been observing my sins to see if they’re rooted in pride. And 9 times out of 10, they are. More like 99 out of 100, or even 999/1000. Or maybe straight-up 100%.

Take judgment, for example. When we think poorly of others it’s usually because we think we’re better than another in some moral aspect (Oh, the irony!). And somehow, we pridefully think that we can judge like God judges. That doesn’t mean that we can’t recognize when others sin; we just have to remember that we sin too, so it’s not like the sins of others somehow elevate us.

I think that pride also prevents us from taking advantage of all the gifts God wants to give us. God wants us to be able to trust in Him and to cast all our burdens upon Him. As Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Pride can prevent us from trusting in God enough to leave Him in charge of our problems. It’s prideful to think that God can’t possibly handle our problems better than us.

The moral of the story is, pray for humility, or the ability to see yourself accurately, in Truth.