By Francis Gonsalves
May 24th, 2010
O Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way, I can’t wait to look in the mirror ’cause I get better looking each day — these words from Mac Davis’ song are symptomatic of a modern malaise: I-disease. The Bible tells us that Primal Man, Adam, too, suffered from I-disease leading to the “Fall of Man” (Genesis, Chapter 3), which mustn’t be taken as a historical event but as profoundly true in its message: “Pride comes before a fall”.
We’ve seen that God moulds Adam “from the dust” (Genesis 2:7). Interestingly, while Adam in Hebrew means “Man” (in the generic sense of “Humankind”) the Hebrew Adamah means “earth” or “dust”. The Genesis writer wants us to realise that we are created from dust for the right relationship with God, with other humans, and with all other creatures. The Hindu tradition, too, stresses the intimate bond between Man and the Earth, the Bhumidevi (goddess earth) being a Mother who nurses and nourishes.
The etymological root of the English “humility” is the Latin humus meaning, “dust” or “soil”. Humility, therefore, is the virtue of one who is, quite literally, down-to-earth and mindful of one’s grounding in God. It is the correct estimation of who one truly is in the light of “Who God Is”. The “original sin” of Man is not really disobedience to God by eating the forbidden fruit of the “Tree of Life”, but pride. The tempter (symbolised as serpent) entices Adam and Eve by promising, “You yourselves will be like gods” (Genesis 3:5). The sin of making myself God and assuming the Absolute “I” for myself rather than the miniscule “i” is hubris and I-disease. I-disease victims think they’re “self-made”. No one’s “self-made” since if that were so, we’d easily be able to alter our faces or genes. And though “Raymond” promises to make me “The Complete Man” I must realise that I’ll always be incomplete yet “special”; for, i’m God’s child. Of the proud person the Book of Psalms says: “The wicked in his pride does not look very far; ‘There is no God’, is his only thought” (10:4). Conversely, the humble realise that everything they have is “God-given” and greatness is not really of them but through them. Humble persons tend to be singularly compassionate, considerate and forgiving. Humility is an elusive virtue. As soon as i think i’ve got it, i don’t. Indeed, humility implies not thinking little of myself but not thinking of myself at all. And if i don’t think of myself at all, then like a bashful little jasmine, oblivious of its beauty, my fragrance will waft outwards towards other people, turning everything and everyone Godward. The Bible warns: “For the disease of the proud there’s no cure, since an evil growth has taken root there” (Sirach 3:28). Pride requires uprooting. My egoistic I must be downsized to “i” and transplanted in the Garden of Life where every human “i” is equal and loved by God.
Christians regard Jesus as epitome of humility. He taught: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). He proposed children and servants as examples of humility — for their I-lessness and their sense of service, respectively. Jesus was selfless servant of all. “Learn from me for I’m gentle and humble of heart”, said He (Matthew 11:29) and washed his disciples’ feet in humility (John 13:1-16). Finally, he “humbled himself even to accepting death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). That’s why He was exalted.
Today, don’t we spend much money on manicures and pedicures? But, I-disease requires headicure — a change of mindset and attitude. Mac Davis’ song concludes: “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best I can”, while the Book of Genesis reminds us: “Dust you are and to dust you shall return” (3:19). So let’s do the best we can to cure I-disease by accepting our humus-origins and our Deus-destiny.
— Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Asian Age