Posts tagged pride
James’ letter to the Christians “scattered among the nations” contains essentially one warning – don’t become arrogant. That seems like a weird thing to say to a small, disjointed group of people who are oppressed nearly everywhere they go. What in the world do they have to be arrogant about? What would cause them to have that kind of pride?
Consider, however, that these were a people whose movement was growing, who were regularly seeing miracles in their midst and who had the attention of a group of people in Jerusalem who were the equivalent of today’s Pope. In that sense, regardless of their other circumstances, it’s understandable that some pride and ego might creep in. Add to that the fact that they knew they possessed the truth about the Messiah, and you can see how a sense of moral superiority would settle in.
James, in his letter, warns against this kind of arrogance. Any success we have, he says, is not ours to boast about. Any plans we’ve made can only come to fruition by God’s grace. Our wealthy connections may be useless. Our judgmental attitudes just serve to bring judgement upon ourselves. In short, our pride leads to our ruin; our humility to our joy.
This is an important recognition and can’t be overemphasized. Everything good comes from God. Evil and corruption, however, we are capable of on our own. And so, when things go wrong in our lives, we only have ourselves to blame (at least in the sense that we blame the whole of humanity, if not our individual selves) but when things go right, we need to be sure to give credit to God.
The popular question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” assumes that we are actually good people. The truth is, it’s only by God’s extravagant grace that anything good happens at all! If we got what we deserved, the world would have quite literally gone to hell eons ago. And so, the question should be, “Why do good things happen to bad people…like me?”
I believe that if we seek the answer to that question, and encourage others to seek it with us, we will, in the end, discover God.
Israel was a spreading vine;
he brought forth fruit for himself.
As his fruit increased,
he built more altars;
as his land prospered,
he adorned his sacred stones. (Hosea 10:1)
“I am very rich; I have become wealthy.
With all my wealth they will not find in me
any iniquity or sin.” (Hosea 12:8)
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me. (Hosea 13:6)
That is our pattern isn’t it? In our times of deepest need, we cry out to God for mercy and for help. But when he helps us get back on our feet, we forget about him. When we’re poor and hungry, we recognize our need for God. When he helps us to prosper, we tell ourselves we did it all on our own and that we don’t really need him.
Let’s face it, we’re idiots. I recently re-watched the film Finding Nemo with my little girl. And it occurs to me that we are a little like Dory, the confused little blue fish from that film. We have some kind of crazy memory loss that kicks in at all the wrong times. Just at the moment when we should be thanking and praising God for rescuing us, we somehow forget that he was involved at all.
Such was the case for the people of Israel – a people who God had rescued time and time again. These were a people with serious memory loss issues. They ended up having to learn the same lessons over and over again. The crazy thing is that God was willing to help them learn those lessons over and over again!
Thankfully, his patience still hasn’t worn out. He’s willing to do the same for us. The cycle of behavior expressed in Hosea 13 still goes on today. He feeds us when we are hungry and we become satisfied. Once satisfied, we become proud and then we forget him. I don’t know about you, but I want to break that cycle. Let’s remember God in the good times as well as the bad.
The trouble with having power and authority is that it becomes really easy to get so drunk with that power that you end up backing yourself into a corner. More than once, a kingdom or nation has been brought down by the boasting or arrogance of its leader. As we’re reminded in Proverbs, pride comes before destruction.
Pride also tends to come after a little brown-nosing from opportunistic “friends” and “advisers”. Anyone who is in the public eye knows that one quick way to bring about your own downfall is to “believe your press clippings” – to believe all the great things that other people write or say about you. The fact is, other people’s impressions of you are just that – impressions. And, if it is in the other person’s interest to build you up, they will do so. They can also tear you down just as quickly.
King Darius must have skipped that lesson in “How to Be A King 101″, because he allowed himself to be backed into a corner through a three-pronged attack: brown-nosing advisers, believing his own press clippings and being too quick to speak. For some reason, when we gain power, we start thinking that we can say or do anything. But that is never the case and it wasn’t the case for Darius. In fact, he had, in this instance, “one-way” power. As king, he could decree just about anything he wanted. However, once decreed, there was no “undo” button.
And so, Darius essentially decreed that anyone who worshiped any “god or human” except himself (there is that pride) should be put to death. The problem was, he didn’t know that one of his closest advisers was praying to his God each day (though he should have know this, since Daniel seemed to be very open about the God he served.) And so, he issued a death sentence that he couldn’t rescind.
Now, you could make the argument that he is king and therefore should have been able to come up with a way to pardon Daniel. And yes, he probably could have. But remember, politics were alive and well way back then, just as they are today. Issuing a decree and then backing down from it, no matter how it was spun, would have resulted in the king looking weak in the eyes of many and vulnerable in the eyes of those seeking to overthrow him.
In the end, Darius chose to place self-interest above Daniel’s life, but he felt guilty about it. He prayed that somehow Daniel would survive. And that prayer was answered. Daniel did survive, which gave the king a window to issue a new decree – one that made Daniel’s God the “official” God of the kingdom.
It was a crazy turn of events, but it just goes to show that in the midst of pride, deceit and murder, God can turn lemons into lemonade. He moves the world toward him even when we try to turn away. Why? Because he loves us that much.
If the recent economic woes of the U.S. and many other nations around the world have proven anything, it’s that even the wealthiest people can be financially ruined in a heartbeat. The wealthiest nations can sink into oblivion. The most powerful can lose everything. The greatest institutions can collapse under the pressure of an economic downturn.
And so it would be with Tyre. Tyre was a great nation with great exports and imports. They had it all…and it could all be had…for a price. But in the end, having it all wouldn’t be enough. After all, they had made enemies with a great and powerful God (one who actually has it all) and he was going to bring about their destruction. They thought they had the world figured out, but God thought otherwise.
To me, the story of Tyre is pretty concerning. In Tyre, I see a lot of my own home country. Here in the U.S., we are mighty proud of ourselves. Over the past several days, I have heard a number of people talk about how great we are. I even heard a presidential candidate say that if you want to do something great, you need an American. That kind of pride is what sank the ships of Tyre and I fear that it will sink ours, too.
You see, we like to say “God bless America,” but we forget that he already has. We like to blame him when things go wrong, but forget about him when things go right. We like to champion personal achievement Monday through Friday and spend Sunday feigning humility. We are, in a (hyphenated) word, Tyre-like.
At moments like these, I am reminded again of God’s grace. Surely that is the only reason he hasn’t wiped our country off the face of the earth already. We are arrogant and proud, we fail to care for the poor and needy, we are promiscuous (both in the spiritual and physical sense of the word) and we are defiant to the end. I just wonder how much longer his grace will last before he decides that he needs to remind us again of himself.
I’m no doomsday prophet, but I can read. And what I read tells me that things don’t typically turn out well for nations like ours. I think we would do good to heed that warning.
I have to say, the close of Nehemiah’s book it a little off-putting. I mean, again, this blog is my first impression of what I read each day and I haven’t ever done an in-depth study of the book of Nehemiah. However, it appears at first glance that Nehemiah is doing a little self-promotion (and finger-pointing) to close out his book.
Does God really need to be reminded of what happened? Does Nehemiah really feel the need to inform God or give him a history lesson? Or is the last chapter of Nehemiah meant, like so many spoken prayers, more for the “audience” than for God. Whatever the case, I don’t really get it…and yet, I do. I don’t get it because as people of God, we (and Nehemiah) should be above this – not always jockeying for position. But I do get it because we still do jockey for position.
In some ways, perhaps Nehemiah’s jockeying is better than my own. While you and I may jockey for position on earth, Nehemiah just wants to be remembered by God. While you and I may seek respect from others, Nehemiah wants adoration from God.
I guess if you’re Nehemiah and are going to look for some amount of edification, at least you’re focused in the right direction – on the only one whose opinion ultimately matters. And, by the way, God seems to have remembered Nehemiah and he has given us a chance to remember him as well.