What can possibly be said about pride that has not already been
said? We all know that from a biblical perspective pride is not a
virtue but a vice. It is something God resists and hates (James
4:6). We know that pride is ugly and humility is beautiful. We
also have an amazing expertise in detecting pride in everyone
except, of course ourselves. Perhaps more needs to be said
about pride. So I will. Let’s look at pride in three ways. First, what does pride look like in real flesh and blood? Second, how do we know if pride is our problem? Third, how do we deal with it or how does the Gospel cure it?
What does pride look like? It is best revealed in relationships. When we think about the nature of pride we must look at it in relationship to God. Pride is the creature deifying himself or herself. Luther argued that underneath all of our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of God and that we must take matters into our own hands. Pride is the primal sin (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28; 1 Timothy 3:6) of Lucifer that precipitated his fall. Pride is the stubborn refusal to let God be God. It is also the corresponding ambition to take His place, i.e. to attempt to dethrone God and enthrone self. H. Richard Niebuhr said “Pride is godlessness, it is the will to live without God, to ignore God, and to be the source of one’s own sufficiency. It is to live without being indebted to or forgiven by God and to live independently, secure in oneself and to be god like”. Pride is hypocrisy not humility. To be a hypocrite is to pretend that we are something we are not. Pride is the inflated pretense that we can manage without God. Only God can depend upon Himself. Pride rebels against any other god than self. Pride is such a heinous offense because God and God alone is God. Pride is attempted deicide.
Pride can also be seen in relationship to the self. It flows from an inordinate self love. Its cousins are hubris, arrogance, haughtiness, loftiness, insolence, etc. It is the denial of one’s finitude, creatureliness, and contingency. Modernity as a product of the enlightenment fed our propensity toward pride through the unholy trinity of technology, scientism and economism. We believe we have the knowledge and technology to fix everything if it is profitable, but it has failed miserably. Edwards was right when he said, “Upon the Fall the mind of man shrank from its primitive greatness and expandedness to an exceeding smallness and contraction”. Man has become ‘homo incurvatus en se’, i.e. man curved in upon himself. The proud person worships only himself. Pride is having an affair with yourself. It is an inflated perspective on your identity and purpose in this world.
When seen in relation to others pride is essentially competitive. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says of pride it “always compares…it is not enough to be rich, you must be richer, it is not enough to be pretty, but you must be prettier, it is not enough to be smart, you must be smarter; pride has to excel over others”. In its quest to make self the central concern pride has only two social options. Pride ignores other people who cannot enhance its self glory. Pride uses others if they promote and enhance self glory. Pride deprecates others through scorn and humiliation. It causes real harm and injury, often in violent ways. Racism, nationalism, class and gender snobbery are the children of a proud heart. Pride manifests itself in an insatiable thirst for power and glory. It is at heart a passion to be worshipped.
How do I know if pride is my problem? A truism I have never seen contradicted is: the who thinks pride is not my problem is the one most filled with it. Pride fosters alienation and estrangement from God, self and others. A proud heart feels threatened by the presence of the real God. Even more threatening is the reality of death. Death threatens to negate one’s identity. It is the final enemy to human ambition and psychological safety. Death is God’s indelible and inescapable stamp of failure on man’s attempt at godhood. We cannot be independent and secure in ourselves. It is a source of confusion, embarrassment and agony to those whose hope is their own self sufficiency. Pride fuels a continuing rebellion even in the face of such reality. Consider the words of William E. Henly:
Black as the night that covers me, dark as a pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.
It matters not how straight the gait, how charged with punishment the scroll;
I am the captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul.
I might interject, “Ah, but you die!” Death is the great leveler and deflater of such pride. Pride also shows up as discontentment. The terrible irony of the Fall is that man expects far more than Eden and yet can only realize far less. We rage against God and judge Him as unfair. Pride also results in withdrawal. It retreats into its controllable private world. It covets isolation. It is anti-community. It has no need for others. It is insufferably lonely. Pride never admits it is wrong for that would destroy the fantasy. As one wise pastor observed regarding a well-respected lady in his parish, “She has every virtue but a sense of sin.”
So how does God cure pride? How do we get over it? It’s not easy. It is painful. It doesn’t happen all at once. It is a lifetime project. You will always be dealing with it. It never goes away, just into remission. The opposite of pride is not thinking of self less or not thinking of self at all, but it is self forgetfulness. It is no longer being curved in upon oneself but curved outward toward God and others. So how does that happen? The only cure I know is not more “cow bell” but grace. It takes grace to enable me to admit that I am an almost incurably proud man. The cross is the place for healing for the cross shows me and you what we are really like and what it took to save our proud souls. It required the humiliation of God the Son to come from glory to this rebellious planet in order to save us from ourselves. Only in the arms of such love do we have the courage to acknowledge reality and escape from the fantasy. It was my pride that put Him there. It was His love for proud, rebellious people that kept Him there. It is the Gospel that melts my cold, proud heart and softens it to face reality. This is the beginning of humility. And that is as beautiful as pride is ugly. Daily repenting of pride is now a lifestyle for the believer. The Gospel undermines and deflates pride. It tells me that I am so broken, powerless and hopeless that Someone on the outside must come and intervene. It shatters the image of the autonomous, independent and self-sufficient man. It spotlights the lie I have bought and it shows me how pitiful and pathetic my attempts at self deification really are. At the same time the Gospel is good news in that God forgives and has mercy and endows me with righteousness and sonship. I am no longer a wayward rebel, I am a beloved son.