Monday, June 21, 2010

'The Great Sin'

Good Monday to you!! Mondays are always a little tough, but I am really looking forward to this week. Aar and I are jetting off to Chicago on Wednesday to celebrate his Grandma's 90th birthday this weekend and to see lots of friends and family we have greatly been missing. I can't wait to get out of town for a few days, see some long-missed faces and to GET OUT OF THE HEAT!!

Now. Last week I said I would perhaps blog about all the lovely insight I was gaining from traipsing through Mere Christianity. I definitely have a blog in me today on that very subject, but instead of feeling energetic and inspired, I have to be honest - I find myself wishing I hadn't read the book at all. It is harsh, cold and blunt and perhaps a dose of truth too heavy for me right now. Not while I'm still weak and human and all that. You know.

Too late.

Have you read his chapter on pride? AH! Would that we all did! But I must advise you not to, as a friend and someone who has a healthy respect for spiritual comfort. ( By the way, you can read the entire chapter here. Don't click on it!)

Let me start here... at church last night, a guest speaker touched on pride while talking about the church of Laodicea, which gets a bit of an earful in the book of Revelation. The Laodiceans' response to God was more or less "We're wealthy; we're doing fine - we don't need you." Obviously, that is prideful, and our speaker did a good job hitting home with his sermon. But I couldn't help but hold that example next to C.S. Lewis' pride chapter - and I came to the conclusion that the Laodiceans were merely skimming the outer rim of pride. They had baby pride. Pride with sugar on top.

Saying "I'm proud of myself for getting this promotion" is not necessarily a sinful pride; just as Laodicea saying "We are doing quite well and do not need God" is not necessarily prideful, in its strictest sense. It was foolish, of course, to say they didn't need God. If someone said that to me, though, my response would be less "how prideful of you!" and more "you must not understand what it means to need."

But that's a rabbit trail. What I'm trying to get at is that pride in something you did well is not necessarily sinful. I've heard that we must not forget to give God credit, and that is certainly true. But it's just disingenuous to say "I would be happy about this promotion, but I literally had nothing to do with it. It was only God." It is true that God blessed you with that circumstance; and also with the work ethic, the talent and whatever else you possess that got you that far. But no one truly believes he does not have a choice in what he works for. And it is not sincere to pretend we don't. Nor is it prideful to acknowledge that we do.

Going further - vanity is not even the worst of pride, according to Lewis. Vanity is almost a humble type of pride even; because it says "I am not sure enough of my own worth; I need to hear of it from others." It's something we should surely guard against, but it is not the deep, dark, diabolical side of pride.

Here's what the true density of pride is. It is competition for no reason. It is pure enmity. Lewis calls it the 'anti-God,' which, seriously, is starting to give me nightmares.

The worst type of pride is when, after getting that promotion, you don't say "I'm glad I got this because I like what I'm doing," you say "I am glad I got this purely because it means someone else didn't. I am glad of the status this gives me in comparison to those around me. I am glad I stole this from someone else. And I couldn't care less about the actual promotion."

And I think we could probably find that sentiment in every last drop of every single situation of every single day for us. At least I know I can. Doesn't that make you want to lock yourself in a closet and turn off the light and never come out? Who am I, that I possess this awfulness?! Why do I have to know about it now?

That kind of pride is so terrible because it really has no other motive than just plain meanness. Just grossness. So many other sins or 'vices' have root in our animal instincts - sexual misconduct, gluttony, violence, etc. And any sins you can think of that don't relate to our animal instincts probably have their root in pride (greed, self-absorption, manipulation, ungratefulness, etc.).

Why do you pose for just the right photo to put on your facebook? Why do you put up a Bible verse on your twitter account? Why do you worry about making more money at work, why do you paint your house and take lots of showers and decorate a Christmas tree and put icing on cookies and go to the gym? I mean deeply, why? If you can get to your very deepest motive, I don't think you'll like it. I think It will look a lot less like rationality and normalcy and healthy energy and a lot more like pride. Pride for no reason but malicious intent.

"We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about."


(As a caveat - Lewis does say that, for example, in the making-more-money-at-work example, pride may not always be at play. It is only when we extend our 'wants' to an extreme distance beyond what we need that we should get skeptical. Maybe you want to make more at work to help pay for medical bills or make sure your family is financially secure - obviously, pride is not at play here. But if you obsess over making $150,000 a year instead of $125,000 a year, you've got to take a step back, friends. If you weren't surrounded by lots of people who make $145,000 and who you'd like nothing more than to show up, I'd say maybe we're ok. But be real...)

And here's another scary thing about pride I wish Lewis didn't teach me. Satan allows you to use IT to overcome other little messy sins you've got. 'I'm going to stop looking at questionable photos online' sounds great, and like a righteous gesture. And it is. But if your motive is 'I will stop doing that because it is beneath me; because I must ensure that I am better than my friends who do it' then 'Satan laughs,' as Lewis would say. You're letting a little fish go and taking a great grip of a huge shark. Saying "I will stop caring what other people think of me" is wonderful and should be tried. But saying "I will stop caring what other people think of me because everyone else is so trivial to me that why would I care?" is black and ugly and dark and the worst kind of awfulness.

That fact too - that pride allows us to overcome smaller sins with it - is the reason I believe that pride is so 'acceptable' and overlooked. Lewis says that Christians are the only people he knows whose set of morals disallows pride, and who actively admit they are prideful. That may be true of our philosophy as compared to others, but are we that kind of people? Do our friends who put up 1,000 facebook photos a day of their own faces gross us out, or as long as they make a Bible verse their status are we OK with it; even complimentary? Does my desire to go to the gym three times a week make me question why I motivate myself by rejoicing in the fact that I'm not lazy like other people, or does it make me congratulate myself for my discipline?

I wrote a column in Relevant once about our strange desire to make other people jealous of us - I think this pride thing is what I was getting at. It's such a malicious thing, and it looks so acceptable most of the time, doesn't it?

One last point - Lewis says that God looks down on pride not because He is vainly mad we aren't focusing enough attention on Him. He looks down on it because in order to commune with him, we have to let go of it. We can't commune with God if we don't know who He is; we can't know who He is until we know who we are in comparison to him; and we can't know that until we realize we are absolutely inconsequential. I don't think he quite cares about pride or humility in themselves. He just wants to be with us.

How are you feeling?

Now. The only glimmer of non-gloom I could find in Lewis's pride chapter is that 1. We cannot overcome pride ourselves, and 2. God wants to help us. That's all I'm holding on to at the moment. I hope He does help me. I'd like to look in the mirror again.

Friends, lets do this together. Don't do things because of other people. Don't do things in spite of them, or to 'show' them, or to make them feel negative about themselves or anything else. Do things to love them and then leave them alone.

And don't suggest they read C.S. Lewis. Unless they want to whine, throw the book away, pretend it didn't mean anything to them, lose a few nights' sleep, and then ...maybe...begin to change a little bit...


  1. Oh Maria, I love you. I love your honesty and your intellect. Your faith and your desire to become a better person every day. I miss you a lot, you know that? I liked your thoughts about this book...It was on my list of books to read but now I'm not so sure! :)

  2. Christine! You are so sweet. I do miss you so much too. You have been on my mind lately... I've been seeing some fun photos on facebook of you and remembering your amazing scrapbooking skills. Hope all is well. :)