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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Discerning Humility

Christmas card with Caspar Milquetoast
 by H. T. Webster
In what area of your life do you desire more wisdom? Where would you like more boldness? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 703).

If this question had asked about increasing one's power, the answer would have been such things as the power to know the future, or the power of to get inside people's heads and see things exactly from their perspective, and after gaining such knowledge, the power to gain access to people's levers of perception to change them to conform to my opinions and beliefs. But, thanks be to God, such highways to perdition are hopefully forever closed to attainment due to the cantankerous integrity of the human will.

In the effort to discern where I need greater wisdom, the related question is – where do I chronically lack insight or understanding? Phrased in this way, indicators for improvements become clear. All my life I have had tendencies of introversion. I have, quite wrongfully, flattered myself in assuming that my reticence equated with humility. From this point of view, I was able to rationalize that extroversion and its cousins (which were outside my abilities anyway) equated with arrogance. Thus, being shy, I quietly flattered myself as being humble and superior when compared to the arrogance of the more vocal and outgoing. It was, if truth be told, a painful instance of sour grapes.

I have come to view true humility as the simple yet decisive inclination to do God's will. And God's will when translated into human lives does not always look and sound the same. God's will for me today may look entirely different from God's will for me tomorrow, or for his will for others at some given time. My sitting quietly in the back row can conform to God's will for me as surely as Eddie Murphy's stage performance before thousands can conform to God's will for him. In short, humility, true abject humility, can appear in strikingly different forms. Moses was humble in tending the flocks of his father-in-law, and he was equally humble in telling Pharaoh to go fly a kite. While I'm sure that Pharaoh must have found Moses inconceivably and infuriatingly arrogant, Moses from a different point of view was the most humble of men abjectly doing the will of God. Thus a conundrum confronts us. It takes wisdom to discern the difference between milquetoast behavior that can in fact derive from arrogance, and seeming arrogance that can in fact derive from humble obedience to God and conscience. This is an area of my life where I (particularly as a retiring soul) need greater wisdom. From this point of view boldness is not an end in itself, but simply a mode of expression that can derive from arrogance or humility – whichever the case may be.

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