Humility is one of the most important virtues in human history; many pearls of wisdom have kept on emphasizing it. And yet, it is one of the critical attributes that we always misunderstand.
What is the value of humility? At a glance, it looks so counterintuitive from the perspective of survival of the fittest.
For our survival in the competitions, we have to go ahead of others. We have to defeat others. Seeking win-win seems ideal. And yet unless we are lucky enough, the default status tends to be always: I win, you lose, or we win, they lose. Being competitive this way seems one of the critical attributes for our happy, successful living.
Is that so?
In the prehistoric era, we were struggling under the constant tribal warfare. Not only the harsh environment but everyone outside our tribal community was our enemy. That is to say, we must kill neighbors for our survival. It seems as if this attitude is one of the “Golden Rules” for our selfish nature. At most, only around 150 members based on Dunbar’s number within the community could be exempted from such killing. The murder was one of the top causes of death during those days.
Emerging human civilizations, then what happened to our killing nature? Have we stopped killing one another? Far from it.
Our tribal warfare became more destructive in a larger scale with more sophisticated systems and institutionalization. Means of killing became crueler and yet subtle. We invented gunpowder and dynamite. All the progress of science and technology was primarily for our modern weapons. We even utilized chemicals and nuclear power. The number of people died because of modern warfare in the past centuries was tremendously gigantic compared to that of the prehistoric era.
After two World Wars, then were we able to achieve world peace? Were we able to get out of the harsh reality of “kill your neighbors?” Far from it.
It became more invisible and subtle. On one hand, there is a tremendous, positive achievement in terms of human rights. The world we live in now is much better than the world of centuries ago. We must not misunderstand this truth. Those books like Hans Rosling’s Factfulness and Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist teach us them well. We don’t have to be too pessimistic about our progress. On the other hand, when it comes to humility, however, we still live in this harsh world of “kill your neighbors.”
In our postmodern world, people kill themselves because of despair. Families are dysfunctional. The birth rate keeps declining. We are so individualistic for seeking after our selfish comfort only. We don’t kill our neighbors. It’s no longer literal but more symbolic.
We are still facing the hash reality of killing our neighbors. At the same time, we are so tired of our survival of the fittest.
We are so obsessive to win and survive ourselves in this competitive societies. In the bookstore, there is an endless lineup of self-help, life-hack, and success philosophy books. Even in the writings of spirituality and religions, we consume them for the same selfish purpose. People go to church to survive in this world and to be successful. People practice meditation for the same reason. There is such a term as prosperity theology. Do we seek God first for us to be happy and prosperous? Do we have to be humble for us to succeed? That’s so deceptive.
Indeed, we have distorted the value of humility because of our selfish, sinful nature.
Humility is not a means for what we are supposed to achieve. By its nature, humility is what we have to seek by itself without any sense of return. It is one of the attributes of love of agape. It is one of the most forgotten and misunderstood virtues of all.
There was a young guy who was so proud of his efforts. He believed he was smarter than anyone else, ethically and morally superior to anyone else. Because of this, he thought he could be humble enough for his efforts and achievements. We know who is this person from the following story in the Gospel.
An important man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: ‘Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Respect your father and mother.'”
He told Jesus, “I have obeyed all these commandments since I was a young man.”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “There is one thing you still need to do. Go and sell everything you own! Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower.” When the man heard this, he was sad, because he was very rich.
Jesus saw how sad the man was. So he said, “It’s terribly hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom! In fact, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.”Luke 18:18-25
The dilemma is that as long as we think of ourselves, we can miss the point of humility. Humility is the state of complete selflessness, where a sense of self-awareness could never exist.
Can we enter the kingdom of heaven? If we ask such a question, then, in doing so we close the door by ourselves. That is why, Jesus said, “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into God’s kingdom.”
Humility is the state of complete selflessness, where there is no room for self-awareness. If, however, we could think of ourselves to some extent, then that is more for our self-devastation, realizing how impossible we could be humble by ourselves; how sinful and selfish we are; and, how far we are from the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is impossibly far from us. The distance is infinite. If so, why Jesus said as follows?
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.Matthew 4:17
It is supposed to be infinitely far. But Jesus said it is “at hand.” Why is it “at hand?” Because we could see God’s love through the humility of Jesus himself.
Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us.
Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. Then God gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others.
So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”Philippians 2:6-11
There is a point of humility. That is to say, our first realization that we can never save ourselves from getting out of the reality of killing neighbors. And our second realization is that God alone can demonstrate His love and humility that could fill the infinite gap between our sinful, selfish world and the kingdom of heaven.
Only God can tell us: Repent. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Our humility, therefore, is the realization of this impossibility. Only when we realize we can never attain our humility, at least we could be humble in our limited perspective. Only when we recognize God is everything; we are nothing; and its infinite gap and His infinite love and humiliation, we could scarcely demonstrate our humility from our limitation. Such relizations make us humble. Thus, Jesus said as follows:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:3
And this is why, Job was able to become humble in his limitation only at the end, replying to the Lord:
Job said: No one can oppose you, because you have the power to do what you want. You asked why I talk so much when I know so little. I have talked about things that are far beyond my understanding. You told me to listen and answer your questions. I heard about you from others; now I have seen you with my own eyes. That’s why I hate myself and sit here in dust and ashes to show my sorrow.Job 42:1-6
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