Whatever our religious tradition, we tend to value humility and value its fruits. We observe that the truly humble are able to laugh at themselves, accept criticism, learn from their mistakes, and to respond compassionately to others and their needs. Besides, we feel comfortable in their presence. They are not trying to prove anything about themselves, and this allows us to let our guard down.
In contrast, the proud and arrogant are difficult to relate to. They are entrenched in a rut of trying to look good. Therefore, they tend to be in denial about their faults and unteachable. In order to promote themselves, they often are over-critical, uncompassionate, and tend to look down on others.
Nevertheless, we all have a self-promotional tendency, against which we try to guard, especially in the way we speak and conduct ourselves. The human potential movement seems to be very aware of this danger. For instance, integrationist Dustin DiPerna understands the dangers of their concept of the stages of human maturity/development. This concept might give rise to pride, which comes from seeing ourselves on a high level than others:
- It is not our intention for the stages of religious orientation to be used to pigeonhole an individual to a particular altitude. Nor should lower altitudes be looked down upon, in any sort of condescending fashion. As Wilber emphasizes, it is the right of every individual to stop at any level of development he chooses. Outlining each rung on the ladder can help individuals become as healthy as possible at whatever stage they might currently rest. It is not our job to point out where other individuals fall short… Most importantly, these distinctions are made in order to provide space and clarity so that a clearer picture of our world can be perceived. (Paul R. Smith, Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve)
Clearly, DiPerna understands the danger inherent in a system of spiritual steps. It is hard to resist the temptation to think, “I’m further along than you!” And so he understandably warns that “It is not our job to point out where other individuals fall short.”
However, is such a warning enough to tame that almost irresistible drive to impress and look good? I don’t think so. Meanwhile the Bible similarly warns:
- · For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment. (Romans 12:3)
However, it’s just too tempting to believe more highly of ourselves that we ought, and when we do, to convince ourselves than our inflated self-estimation is really accurate. This is because our drive for significance, okay-ness, and self-righteousness is a consuming fire, which is hard to extinguish.
Consequently, the Bible directs many of its teachings to remedy this ungodly impulse. It teaches that our mad dash towards self-righteousness is opposed to the gift of God-righteousness (Phil. 3:2-9), that our lives are no longer ours but God’s (Gal. 2:20), that we belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20), that He will take care of us and so we no longer need to be concerned about such things (Mat. 6:19-33), and that it is liberating to not have to prove ourselves to others.
However, self-righteousness is our default setting. We have become so intimate with it that it is as if it was built into our software. It’s more than an addiction; rather, it is us! It had been me – the most powerful, life-controlling addiction I could ever imagine. It had to be blasted away. Mere words couldn’t penetrate its defenses. It wasn’t a matter of going cold-turkey. The addiction had taken control of all of my command centers. It had to be surgically eliminated.
This could only be achieved by the Spirit, who brought all of my attempts to prove myself to naught, leaving me in a state of utter paralysis and shame. Eventually, I was forced to surrender all my feeble attempts to redeem myself. I was clearly shown that I was unable, but I was also shown that there was Another who was more than willing to redeem me from myself and to lift me out of my mess.
It was a long and painful process, but He showed me that it doesn’t matter who I am, because if God is for me, then there is nothing that can be successfully come against me (Rom. 8:31-32), and that all good things come from Him (James 1:17; Eph. 2:10). This meant that I couldn’t take credit for anything (1 Cor. 15:10). I now know that without Him, I can do nothing of any real value (John 15:4-5; 2 Cor. 3:5).
This doesn’t mean that I no longer have a tendency to proudly boast and to show myself off. It’s still very tempting. However, my Lord has given me a close-up, intimate picture of what it is, and it’s ugly, smelly, and detestable. It’s no better than junk food – something that tastes good for the moment but then leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just been raped.