“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had…” Philippians 2:3-5
So we read a small portion of what Scripture tells us about humility, and come to find that the dictionary agrees: “Humility:
a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.”
But is this really enough to grasp the whole importance humility plays, or does NOT play in a Christian marriage, or even a Christian family or Christian community? I think it is clear from the Word of God that humility is paramount, but in day to day life it can easily be twisted, leaving us wondering about the legitimacy of it’s expression.
Humble (v.) and humiliate (v.) sound similar, but humiliate emphasizes shame and the loss of self-respect and usually takes place in public, while humble is a milder term implying a lowering of one’s pride or rank.
The best Christian book ever written, (and by this, of course, I am referring to the Bible), teaches us that “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” Those who are proud, are often the ones who humiliate, but the truly humble are those who find favor. This passage in James 4:6-8, continues: “So humble yourself before God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you. Draw close to God and he will draw close to you.” As humility allows us to draw close to God, it also allows us to draw close to others. How is this so?
Consider that a large part of what makes us who we are is our world-view, our opinions, our ways of determining what’s true and what’s not. So how do we determine what is true in a conversation? The Bible is our ultimate standard as Christians, but we still have our own individual filters that sometimes blind us. We compare what we hear or see with what we already know, and see how it is the same or different from our past experience. Also, we check our feelings to see if we like it or not. This, unfortunately, is all too often how we determine what is true and real and what is not. This is all very well for a 5-year-old, but unacceptable for a healthy fully developed adult.
A five-year-old will say that he does not like broccoli because it is yucky. What he does not see is that it is not that broccoli is yucky; in fact, quite the opposite is true. He calls broccoli ”yucky” because he doesn’t like it. He, of course, does not see it that way. He thinks that anyone who likes broccoli has no taste to say the least. This is what we call “ontological arrogance”.
Ontology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of reality. Ontological arrogance is the belief that your perspective is privileged, that your way is the only way to interpret a situation. While ontological arrogance is normal and even cute in children, it is much less charming in adults.
Let me make a big caveat here, which is probably screaming in your head if you have been a believer for any length of time. Here’s what the screaming may sound like: “As Christians, don’t we say that Jesus is the only way to God?! Are you then saying that we possess ontological arrogance?!” Of course this is a claim that we do make as Christians, but the reason we make it is because we are quoting Jesus, who is in fact God! If God makes a claim, such as Jesus did in John 14:6, that, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me…” then we are safe to quote him! But this is God, and I think we can agree that you and I are not God. Hence, a position of humility in regard to our own personal opinions is far more appropriate.
The problem, however, is that in charged situations most of us assume that we see things as they are. Most of the time, however, this is not so. We actually see things as they appear to us. For example, when was the last time that you met an “idiot” who thought exactly like you do? Do you believe people disagree with you because they are “idiots”? Or do you call them “idiots” because they disagree with you? (Yes, maybe those of you with better self-control than others haven’t said it out loud, but more than likely you’ve still thought it in your head!) Do you think your spouse is pushing your buttons and wants to make you mad on purpose? Or do you think that because you do not like what they have to say and the way they say it they seem to “push your buttons” on purpose?
The opposite of arrogance is humility. Humility has the root in Latin word humus, meaning ground. Ontological humility, on the other hand, is the acknowledgment that your opinions do not have a special claim on reality or truth, and that others can have an equally valid perspective deserving respect and consideration. Even within Christianity, there are many different streams of faith and practice, and if we possess this type of humility, we can grow in our knowledge of God. For example, one stream of faith may emphasize the holiness of God, another the Sovereignty of God, and yet another the gifts of the Spirit. Each are Biblically based views, that can broadened your understanding of God and your life as a believer if you are open to them. Acknowledging that even as a committed follower of Christ, there are many ways to look at the world is an important thing. Even within the context of a belief in absolute truth, it’s vital to admit that we have finite minds and individual interpretations of things woven from our past experiences. And while your or my opinion may strongly resemble THE truth, it may not be the only angle on that truth.
It is easy and natural for us to disagree, to push our perception of truth as the right one. It is sweet to be “right” and for others to see the world as we do. And while ontological humility makes sense intellectually, and requires the cognitive development of a six-year-old, it is still not the natural attitude of a human being. Our arrogance in this respect has no bounds.
Ontological humility does not mean that you have to disregard your own perspective. It is perfectly humble to state how circumstances make you feel, as long as you allow the other person to have a different perspective or understanding, and don’t punish them for it. This type of humility allows people to draw close to one another, as humiliation is not involved, and pride is no longer creating barriers and pushing you apart.
And who knows, as you truly consider the other persons perspective, you might start realizing that there’s more truth to it than you cared to initially admit! An even greater level of mature humility will allow you to admit this and draw even closer. (Hence chapter two in The Relationship Saver about agreeing with your partner.)
There are times when you can “agree to disagree” and at other times you will need to bring the conversation to some agreement. But we’ll talk about that some other time. Stay tuned and try to behave as if you are at least six.
By the way, I saw a great bumper sticker yesterday: “You don’t have to believe everything you think.”
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