Easter is here. The great passion of death’s sting emptied into the dying Messiah. He would complete what he had said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” These three days changed the world, our perception of God, and his want for us. As we’ve read about pride in A Year with C.S. Lewis earlier this week, it’s fitting to now turn to humility.
Once we realize we’re full of pride, the task is to forget ourselves altogether. And, according to Lewis, “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
Humility is harnessed to our intentions. If we are to love God or our neighbor, we must look outside of ourselves. But it’s tricky. The readings from The Screwtape Letters for Saturday and Sunday contend with this reality as the demons dissect how to give their patients a false sense of humility.
First, it’s whether we act humbly to honor God or to have the exuberance of thinking, “By jove! I’m being humble.” Screwtape knows that pride begins to grow inside what would otherwise be a work done for God. There are many accounts of such starts and stumbles.
One example is certainly the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
During the weeks leading up to his death, Jesus calls them out as snakes and hypocrites and blind guides. Why? They surely didn’t start out that way. We can imagine that their intentions were true and their want for God’s righteousness was a daily devotion. But Jesus says, for example, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).
Jesus is always returning us to the intention and motivation of our works, not only the works themselves. And humility starts inside, as one moves from a casual bystander to the Gospel to someone who reflects Jesus’ prayer in the garden before he is arrested: “Not my will, but yours.”
Lewis explains through the character of Screwtape that when humility bends back to reflect on our state, it’s not humility at all. “You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility,” Screwtape says. “Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.”
Jesus defines humility for us—God from God, light from light, true God from true God… For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and, as Philippians says, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”It’s self-indulgence that stings the Pharisees. Faux goodness is almost more dangerous than straight-on pride, because it hooks faith and a confidence in our own righteousness on the same peg. And we can’t ever attain fulfillment that way. It’s a road, as Screwtape notes, that keeps our “minds endlessly revolving.”
If we follow Jesus, he is working in us to annihilate self-love, and, as Screwtape says, “restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.”