The Great Sin

This is the next installment of our Reading the Classics over at Okay, last week I got ahead of myself. Back when we were reading Edwards there came a time, near the end, when Tim needed to take a week off while he went to some conference or another. When he came back I found myself mysteriously two weeks behind. I never did figure out how it happened, but I never got caught up again, and finished the race to the cheers of the clean-up crew. This time he took a break for the holidays and I ended up a section ahead. Again, I had no idea. Clearly I don’t pay careful enough attention to the instruction portion of his post. So, I commented on Section 7, Forgiveness, a week early. It was, in fact the predominant focus of that post. If you haven’t already read it, you can find it here: . And with all that said, I’ll carry on today with the next section of our reading.

We begin with the Christian virtue of humility. In addressing that great virtue, humility, Lewis first describes “The Great Sin”, which is pride. It is interesting how things have changed in the generation since his writing. Personal pride, in this day and age, is now fostered in individuals to a degree that may be without historical precedent. We live in a world that glorifies the most entirely self-absorbed people imaginable. Though I could rattle off some names, I’d rather not deal with the troll responses. So just start your own list, you may perhaps begin with folks who are named after famous European locales.
Pride is considered by many, especially of the younger set (and Oprah fans of all ages), to be a virtue. In order to have this section make sense to the average, say, 25 year old, you may have to substitute the word “arrogance” for pride to get the intended meaning, because I’m not certain Lewis’ other term “self-conceit” is even all that frowned upon. But, with that in mind, what Lewis says is right on, “I have never heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”

“The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.” This chapter was incredibly convicting and quite comparable to Edward’s treatment, in Religious Affections, of the same sin (though of necessity much briefer). Here Lewis unpacks pride in a way that must certainly expose everyone. His diagnostic tools are sharp and cut right to the heart. “…if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or patronise me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise….Pride is essentially competitive – it is competitive by its very nature – while other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something , only out of having more of it than the next man….If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud; the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” And boy can I testify to the truth of that. When I was a younger woman, before I was a believer, there were few things more miserable for me than to have to occupy the same room with women prettier or more successful than myself. Well, God, through his grace, and the natural aging process, has done quite a work in that area of my life!

Lewis goes on to say that “Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride…it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.... Pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”

And the most definitive statement of all: “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. 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.”

This, of course, leads to the subject of religious hypocrites who are full of pride and yet claim to know God. Lewis’ explanation of the phenomenon is simple and spot-on: “…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.” And he offers excellent help for self-examination: “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. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”
And finally, there’s this gem. We should all have it posted over our bathroom mirrors, or kitchen sinks, or wherever it will be seen many times a day: “…Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense”.

And to this I add my shamefaced "Amen". No doubt it is my own pride which makes it so difficult to for me to love the ones in this world I find so difficult to love. (And here Lewis again speaks directly to my #2 New Year's resolution!) May God grant me ongoing grace to mortify this sin in my life.


Andy C said…
Is it possible to be proud in your humility? It seems that it is easy to be proud, and maybe as easy to brag about being humble.

True humility almost requires that you dent having it. I am not there yet and probably will never be.
Laurie M. said…
Oh Andy - I know what you're saying. Nothing ruins a beautiful moment of humility like noticing it's happening. That's all it takes to become proud of it, and humility vanishes. I think that's why Lewis says it's better to "forget about yourself altogether" - which is a tall order for someone who up until the age of forty never thought about anyone else! I'm hoping those rare and precious moments are stored up in the heart of God as the works of gold - and the rest is the hay and stubble.
Andy C said…
How much better (but more painful) to have the hay and stubble burned off now as opposed to in the eternal presence.
Anonymous said…
Pride is a stumbling block for me as well. Yet it takes confidence to play in the praise band at church and that makes the balancing act all the more difficult - on the one hand I’m told to share the gift

1 Peter 4:10 (ESV) As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

And on the other reminded that it’s only by God’s grace I was given the gift to share

Job 41:11 (NLT) Who has given me anything that I need to pay back? Everything under heaven is mine.

And yet one can not try to be humble; that simply doesn’t work. All I have to do is watch the videos and I am humbled but almost to the point of quitting altogether but nobody said (correctly) that it was going to be easy to walk the Christian walk.

Now don’t let this go to your head and give you pride but the way that you and Paul describe your past selves makes me think that God has done quiet a bit of sanctification work already or that you exaggerate your past wrong doings. You have both commented on people not liking you and as of yet I can’t see why, maybe it’s them…

@Andy C
Is it not much less painful to have the hay and stubble burned off now than later to visit the lake of fire?
Andy C said…

I was thinking it was painful for us to face our shortfalls in the now and present.
I was not thinking the choice was to face the lake of fire, but as one passes through fire arrives in heaven with nothing but oneself. Joyous at arriving but devoid of any further reward as a result of lack of fruit in one's life.
I think that worse, but as prideful beings we do not want to face the burning off on earth at this time.

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