Friday, October 8, 2010

C.S. Lewis on Pride

I'm re-reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (my favorite author), and am finding myself completely struck by the chapter "The Great Sin" where Lewis points out that pride is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Today's culture is rampant with pride. I'm sure that's nothing new, but it seems that nowdays, pride, like most sins, is admired and lifted up in society... and even in the church.

"How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound's worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. [...] Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good- above all, that we are better than someone else- I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil."

Some time ago, my husband and I visited a friend of a friend's church. The morning service was quite wonderful. We found the preaching to be bold and biblical, so we eagerly attended the evening service.

We were sorely disappointed. The preacher spent his whole sermon talking down on other denominations and Christian groups.

"These people come in the church wearing their flip flops and jeans," he said, shaking his finger at his well-dressed congregation. Then he launched into a story about a woman he came across while guest-preaching. "She came in there with her bright dress and red high heels. I tell you, she had the smack of the world on her!"

I blushed where I sat (thankfully, in one of the back pews). I was wearing flip flops (a nicer "dressy" pair) and a long jean skirt. Everyone else was still in their Sunday-best. Not only that, but I had seriously considered wearing my red heels to the morning service. I was glad I hadn't!

Then the preacher said something that sounded very familiar. In his rant on charasmatic churches and these more relaxed "come-as-you-are" groups, he hollered, "I'm so glad we're not like them!"

Luke 18:9-14

[9] To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: [10] "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. [11] The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector. [12] I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

[13] "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

[14] "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

[Needless to say, we didn't return to that church. One of the elders called to check up on us, and my husband discussed this issue with him. The elder agreed it was wrong and prideful, and actually kept in touch with us for several months.]

Lewis hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you."

Sometimes people think that you're looking down on them if you live differently than they do, choose to raise your children differently, believe differently... but that is more an insecurity issue. Now, if I look at our choice and conviction to homeschool, and I think to myself, "Well, I'm better than those people who send their child to this school or that school," then yes, I am being prideful. (Honestly, that is not how I feel.. although I know that my homeschooling friends and I are sometimes accused of thinking we are "better", when that is definitely not how we feel at all.)

However, there have been points and times in my life when I do find myself feeling better than someone because of a choice I have made or because I don't do something they do... and it is then that God reminds me that I am no better than a murderer on death row. Then I, once again, realize I, like Paul, am the chief sinner. When I'm busy looking down, I fail to see a God who is much bigger than I am.

Lewis points out how deadly this pride is. "[The Devil] is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride- just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."

So, what if, when we see all these beautiful things being cultivated in our lives, we begin to become prideful- thinking ourselves wonderful and useful before God and better than "the rest of those sinners"? Two steps forward, four steps back?


Arlene said...

You made some great points, Mandy. I often cringe when I hear someone say they have "Christian pride" about something or someone. Nowhere in Scripture is the idea of Christian pride found. I've told my children, if they do something well or are commended for their work or actions, not to expect me to say I'm proud of them. I'm pleased, yes, and thankful, most definitely. But proud? I don't believe I have the right to be. The glory goes to God who created us and leads us through His word to do what is right. We actually did this exercise in a woman's small group - we took the phrase "I'm proud of you" out of our vocabulary and replaced it with "Thank the Lord" for 40 days. I can tell you, it made a difference in how I perceive things in my life. I won't say I've eliminated pride completely (wouldn't that be great?) but I identify it now a bit more clearly and can ask God to help me overcome this nasty habit.

Luke said...

C.S. Lewis has some great insights.