“Humility” – that is a subject that one does not hear too much about, even in Christian circles. What is that actually: humility?
Some claim that it is primarily our sinfulness that compels us to be humble. So do we have to fall into sin every now and then in order to really become and remain humble? Can we do anything on our own to become humble? Perhaps, as many believe, is self-repudiation and self-humiliation the secret of true humility?
Well, I fear our life of faith can never come to full maturity unless we learn what it means to be humble with all our hearts. True humility has three strong roots:
The first goes back to our position before the Fall. It becomes visible in the heavenly hosts and in Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.
The second root grew out of our fallen state. It wants to lead us back to the position towards the Creator that befits us as creatures.
Finally, the third is revealed in the mystery of grace. Grace teaches us that humility leads to perfection in eternal bliss and adoration the more we lose ourselves in the overwhelming grandeur of redeeming love. It is this humility that enables us to realize that nothing is more natural, beautiful and blessed for us as creatures than to be nothing, so that God can be everything. Too often one thing is overlooked: it is not sin that humbles the most, but grace! Only when we are concerned with the wonderful glory of God, which is His own as Creator and Redeemer, will it take the lowest and most humble position before him. Here, finally, we become free from ourselves and here our whole longing is satisfied!
We want to draw attention here exclusively to the humility that is due to us as creatures. I am writing this because I am convinced that it is essential for the development of our life of faith to also grasp aspects other than the connection between humility and sin. If Jesus is to be our example in his humiliation, we must understand the principles on which that humiliation is based. We have to find common ground on which to stand with Him so that our likeness to Him can grow. Only when we truly humble ourselves before God and others, and humility has become our joy, only then will we recognize that it is not just the result of sorrow for our sins, but rather the true beauty of Jesus and the bliss of Him that lies hidden in heaven.
Jesus, who found His glory by assuming the form of a servant, declares: “Whoever wants to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Mark 10:43). And through His life He made the deep truth visible that nothing is so divine and heavenly as to be servants and helpers. The faithful servant who properly grasps his position, finds his true joy in caring for the needs of his master. Humility is something infinitely deeper than contrition about sin; it is actually a part of Jesus’ life. Only in it do we as human beings achieve our true nobility. When we prove ourselves as servants, we live according to our destiny as human beings made in God’s image.
When I look back at my own experiences of faith or look around the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ, I am amazed at how little is sought after humility as the distinguishing and decisive characteristic of true discipleship. In teaching and in life, in daily interactions with people, in public, in the closer community of Christians, in the direction and execution of the work of Christ – how much evidence we find there that humility is not held for the main virtue, not for the root of all grace! It is precisely this that is an indispensable condition for following Jesus!
Isn’t it sad that this is so often true of people who strive for more sanctification and who speak of holiness with their words? The fact that the desire for more personal holiness is so seldom associated with the desire for more humility should give us pause. As Christians, we are therefore clearly called upon to prove anew, with all faithfulness and care, that meekness and humility of heart are the main characteristics by which the world should recognize the followers of the meek and humble Lamb of God.