Summary: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. What is pride and how do we deal with it? A few answers here.
He was the most beautiful of all angels. He was referred to as the Day Star, and the son of Dawn. His name, itself, spoke of his brightness—Lucifer, angel of light. He dreamt of ascending the heavens and raising his throne above that of God’s. But he was sent crashing down to the dark recesses of the pit for committing the greatest sin of all: Vanity — or Pride.
That is what pride, described by theologians as the father of all sins, does to us. We end up going down even as we try to go up. It is also the most common of all sins, though strangely enough, most of us don’t even realize that we are proud. So how do we recognize it in us? Honest answers to these questions may provide some clues.
Do you think you are smarter than others?
Some of us take a lot of pride in our own opinions, judgments and thoughts. I used to have a friend like that. He used to think he knew it all, and would expound his theories about every single topic under the sun. Most bemusing were his “expert” commentaries during cricket matches, especially given the fact that he had never held a cricket bat in his hand in his entire life! My friend was generally considered a harmless buffoon, but such pride can have serious—even tragic—consequences.
Dave McPherson tells the story of a U.S. Air Force transport plane flying over Alaska in the mid-50s with its captain and five crew members when they entered an unusually fierce snowstorm. The navigator contacted an air base only to be told that he had veered several hundred miles off course. Correct coordinates were given to the navigator, who continued to insist that his own calculations could not be that far off. Soon the plane ran low on fuel. The six men decided to abandon the plane and parachute to safety, but because of the sub zero temperature and winds that gusted to 50 mph, they were all frozen within minutes of hitting the ground. As a result of the navigator’s pride, five other people went to their deaths.
Proverbs 12:15 tells us that “fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice.” This advice is best taken when it comes from God, as Proverbs 3:5 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.”
The key word here is “heart”. Faith is a gift of the heart and not of the mind. Many of us know a lot about God, but unless that knowledge—a mind thing—goes down to the heart, we will never really know God. We see this exemplified in the arrogance of Saul before he turned Paul. He was a brilliant man, very highly educated, who knew the Scriptures. And because he knew the Scriptures, he thought he knew God. Only when he was thrown off his high horse and met Jesus on the way to Damascus did he realize that he didn’t really know anything.
Do you think you are superior?
This is a pride which basically makes us think we are better than everybody else, and is often expressed by bragging. One of the greatest braggarts of all times was the boxer Mohammed Ali who immortalized the phrase: “I am the greatest.”
There’s a story reported about a conversation that took place between a flight attendant and Mohammed Ali, then at the start of his career. Ali was on a plane, and as he didn’t have his seat belt fastened, the stewardess came up to him and told him to buckle up. “Superman don’t need no seat belt,” he told her. She gave him a withering look and said, “Superman don’t need no plane.”
We might laugh at that, but many of us are guilty of this type of pride. Have you ever said—or felt like saying—these words to somebody: “Don’t you know who I am?” Or how about this: “Who do you think you are telling me what to do?”
I remember a highly educated professional came to me one day for counsel. His marriage was on the rocks and he seemed to want to save it, but as he spoke I realized that he didn’t want any suggestions on how he could repair it, but wanted me to affirm the things that he was doing, which mainly consisted of a list of conditions he had laid down for his wife that she had to fulfil if she wanted to get back to him. I told him that if he wanted to reconcile with her he needed to forgive her for all the wounds that she had caused him—real or imagined—but even as I spoke to him, I knew it was useless. I could almost hear him thinking, “Who do you think you are, preacher man?” he felt superior to me; possibly superior to everybody.