I remember the first time I got fired. My boss was a hulking, ex-college football player. I was a young, snot-nosed intern who thought I already had it all figured out. I kept getting in trouble for not following through on some of the 'smaller details' because I was 'too busy' doing the 'important stuff.' I was pretty arrogant about it. Eventually, it caught up to me. I remember feeling so small in that office as I was being let go, and it wasn't just because my boss could bench press me. It was all of the air coming out of me as my ego deflated. Pride came before the fall.
Pride is an inflated sense of one's abilities or importance. You think you are better than you are or are more important than others. That's a common thing for people in ministry. We think we are doing "God's work." People who know us primarily from our stage presence might think we are better than we are. And we believe the hype. It's easy for people in any leadership position to have their ego swell with pride. Ironically, humility is probably the most important quality of a strong leader. Pride erodes influence.
Another word for pride, arrogance, means to 'claim something for yourself.' To always make it about you. Even people with low self-esteem can be full of pride if they still make everything about themselves. One-Uppers and One-Downers. People with a victim mindset can often be full of pride... Woe is me.
Pride As The Foundation of the Seven Deadly Sins
Pride was the primary sin in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve thought they were more important than God. They believed they could rise above or beyond the authority of God. They believed the serpents words that they could be their own gods. We've been believing that same lie ever since.
Pride is the foundational sin that leads to all other sins. We think we are more important than God or others so we take, take, take. The advocates of the seven deadly sins believed all other sins could be traced to pride. Thomas Aquinas said it like this:
"Inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin.”
Here's how pride plays out in the other deadly sins:
- When you have envy, you tear others down or seek their destruction because you don't want them to look better or have more than you.
- When you have lust, you objectify the other person and they become objects solely to be used for your pleasure.
- In gluttony, you make your pleasure (and not your nourishment) the ultimate purpose of food, wine, etc. and you overindulge for temporary pleasure...often to the expense of your own health and the supply for others.
- In wrath, you plot the destruction of others in response to how you've been wronged. You work yourself up into a froth as you multiply the offense over and over again (usually with a distorted version of the story that puts you solely as the victim in it.)
- Perhaps greed's connection to pride is self-evident. You want more and more and are never content. Thomas Aquinas notes, "It is a sin directly against one's neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them." A greedy person views themselves as more important or entitled than the others around them.
- The connection between sloth and pride is an interesting one. Another word for sloth, in the context of the deadly sins, is apathy. Or in other words, "no passion." When a person is apathetic to the plight of the people around them, that is pride and entitlement at it's worst. I don't care because I don't have to. It doesn't impact me, so why should I bother? We are seeing this on a national level right now with people that are not willing to engage with the reality of racial inequality. It is easy for people that are not impacted by racial discrimination to ignore it. This type of apathy is a dangerous expression of pride. Followers of Jesus must learn to move from apathy to empathy. From pride to humility.
The Cure For Pride
Although pride is an inflated sense of self, its opposite, humility, is not a deflated sense of self. It is an accurate sense of self. To know who you truly are so that you can both grow and give. Pride plays itself out by taking from others. Humility is about giving to others.
In order to give to others, you must have value. Humility implies dignity and value. John Dickson defines humility like this in his book Humilitas.
“Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.”
In order to serve someone else, you have to have something to offer. Humility means recognizing your value (and your weaknesses) so that you may use what you have to bless others. While pride seeks to protect us from our weaknesses, to blind us to our shortcomings, humility demands self-awareness. Flannery O'Connor writes:
“To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility . . .”
The Bible says repeatedly that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. I think it's just as true that the proud resist God. They don't see the need for God. They've got it figured out. As Epictetus wrote, "It is impossible to teach a man something he already thinks he knows."
But God gives grace to the humble. He's patient, present, and generous to the person who is willing to engage with who they are and who they are not. For the person that is willing to learn, Jesus is a great teacher.
Getting fired was a wake up call at that time in my life. I stuck around that church, kept learning, and eventually that boss offered me another position. He stuck with me, encouraged me, gave me opportunities to grow and lead. Pride is something that still impacts my life every day of course, but I'm more aware now of how my attitude and actions impact the people around me.