Humility and Hypocrisy

Jul 15, 2009

Today it is a familiar story: Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina had campaigned on family values, all the while carrying on an affair with an Argentine woman, violating his marriage vows and exposing his wife and children to a painful disclosure. This is hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing the opposite. While he was “humbled,” I am sure, by these public disclosures in this summer, his confessions of love for this woman and of other affairs were not the admissions of a humble man, but of a man caught in his own lies.

We are the loved children of God, prodigal sons and daughters welcomed back into the fold, even with all the mistakes and missteps we have made, so long as we turn back to our loving Father’s arms in true submission. Sanford was declaring his desire to learn to love his wife again, and at the same time, talking about how his lover was his soul mate. Humility means admitting all the wrongs we have done of commission and omission and ceasing to do them; but there is much more to humility than a willingness to admit mistakes. There is also the dropping of all expectations, presumptions and assumptions that bring attention to ourselves in favor of embracing this premise: that God is the doer of all good in the world and that, when we work under God’s direction, we are His hands and feet and hearts and voice in the world. To embrace this concept is to accept our humble status as a servant to His call and needs, in the words of Micah 6:8, “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Humility is not about the abasement of anyone, including ourselves. It is about not claiming something for ourselves—power or goodness–that doesn’t pertain to us –or the opposite tact of taking on too much badness or being overly responsible to make up for some flaw.

It takes a strong ego for a person to become humble. Seeking only to meet his unmet needs, a weak person has nothing to give up to God. Some with weak egos may seem so strong, like a narcissistic personality, but their insistence on meeting their own needs above everyone else’s is a sign of weakness. A person with a strong ego might see the benefit of ceding control of his life to God, to love God in more than just the abstract, because he already tries to fulfill his needs. In the process of releasing control of your life to God, there would be less and less to hang on to if one had a strong ego. That ego has met its needs and will continue to do so but the weak ego can never be filled.

A person with a weak ego is often a servant to others, either in employment or in allowing oneself to be abased, but you will hear whining and complaining about his lot. A servant of God is happy to serve in whatever capacity God proposes for him. He doesn’t need to call any attention to himself in what he does, unlike the Pharisees in Luke 18:11 or the hypocrites in Matthew 6:5 who prayed on the street corners or standing in the temple so they could be seen to be pious.

A humble person is usually real, comfortable with his flaws and good points equally, offering up all of who he is to the circumstances around him, looking for God’s wisdom. You can tell him from a Pharisee by looking for his motivation: he wants to serve God, the Pharisee wants to serve God by calling attention to himself. Governor Sanford could still move to a humble place before God, but he would have to do a lot of soul-searching and place these sins before God and his family and ask for forgiveness; then he would have to totally change his behavior. Many people have been able to do that when they see the depths of their disillusionment with themselves, like the addict or drunk who turns to God and cries out of the depths of despair when he has hit bottom. There is nothing more humbling than truly confessing our humanness.

Probably least understood about being humble in our culture of extreme self-reliance is the relief one feels in knowing that God is carrying the burden of success or failure, that all one has to do is to do his part, what God has called him to do. There is no worry or anxiety, no burden to shoulder. Jesus calls us with this inducement: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) Try humility, it’s freeing.

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