It goes something like this:
”I got saved, but somewhere in the process, I lost my way and grew really prideful. But thankfully, Jesus saved me from my pride! He took me through a season of brokenness. This season was very painful emotionally, but when I came out of it, I knew that I had to put the Lord first in everything I do.”
If you are an evangelical Christian, the odds are you’ve heard this story before, or at least some version of it. It’s part of our mythology as western Christians. It’s a linear plot, with a definite beginning, middle and end. It’s told, oftentimes with triumphant conviction from a brightly lit stage in a church sanctuary. And most importantly, it’s very very clean. Complete with crisp clear cut edges and wrapped up with a neat, pretty bow. Bt the problem is, this story is naive at best, and downright manipulative at worst.
It’s manipulative because we all too often use it to fulfill the desires of our religious, law-worshipping hearts.
I think if we’re all honest, we can admit to having seen others use this story, and using it ourselves. I know I can admit to it. I can remember times when I’ve coveted a ministry position of leadership at church. I had known that old leaders were stepping down soon and would be raising someone up to take their place. The first symptom is comparison. You start sizing up the competition. Thinking to yourself, “Yeah. I’ve been more involved with that guy.” or “That guy hasn’t been in our small group very long, but he’s got a really powerful story…” and then you drop the bomb. You meet up with that leader who is looking for a budding young disciple to fill his mighty shoes and you lay it on. The humility story. This communicates that you are in no way a prideful person who will abuse this privilege to lead others, or allow this position to become an idol in your life. But the irony is, if that were true, you probably wouldn’t feel the need to say it.
I cringe to think of my behavior in the past. Looking back, I find it incredibly sophomoric and embarrassing, but I might as well get used to it, because I imagine that feeling will be quite prevalent at the end of time when I am sitting at the throne of Christ reviewing the instant replay of my life. I’m sure there will be some choices I’m currently making under the pretense of wisdom that Jesus will see and then say, with a grin, “Really? How’d that work out for you?” Well. Good thing He payed for all that, right?
Anyway, my central concern with this pride and humility story is that it side-steps quite a lot of scripture. See, in our brand of first-world Jesus-following, we are obsessed with open and shut cases. We like to tell stories in a moralistic problem-to-solution format. We want to tell people about the disease, and the cure. So we tell them that they are sick with sin and that we used to be sick too, but then we took the Jesus medicine (and a spoonful of sugar to help it go down) and now we’re all better! The only problem is that real sin, like it’s described in the bible, isn’t just a little virus that we fight off with some antibiotics. It is a deadly, marching cancer that roars about like a lion waiting for someone to devour. Paul describes the work of Jesus in our lives to be something more like chemotherapy. It’s a long, sometimes painful process. A journey, that isn’t pretty, but in the end, you’re promised to receive life. It’s called sanctification, a theological concept I’m not entirely sure we’re comfortable with in our culture.
So when we talk about pride and humility, perhaps it shouldn’t be in a cleanly told tale, in which we get our character development like a happy meal. Perhaps it should be told with fear and trembling. Or with dazzling hope. Or both. Perhaps our story shouldn’t be about how we had a “wilderness experience” and are now permanently better for it. Perhaps it should be that Christ went through the wilderness for us and, though we weren’t fixed by a magic bullet, we were given a promise to one day be free of the fetters of this world, and as a token of that promise, we were given the Holy Spirit, who gives comfort and guidance in the journey.