The Humility of Being Right

There’s a peculiar satisfaction that comes with being right. Given the opportunity, we’ll make an idol of it and even run roughshod over those we claim to love in order to win an argument, thereby trading peace for the honor of clutching the blue ribbon of rightness close to our hearts. Often what’s at stake is nothing more than a piece of trivia or a detail of shared history:  In what year did we shingle the roof? How old was Uncle Dave when he passed away? Is the truck due for an oil change?

The sandpaper words, “You were right,” turned inside-out become “I was wrong,” and this is music to the ears of the triumphant, but I would argue that when it comes to deep Truth about God and humanity and the deep rift, there should be a humility that accompanies our rightness, a meekness that conveys our understanding that we have been entrusted with a great treasure.

G.K. Chesterton lived and wrote in the early years of the 20th century, crossing verbal swords with materialist and modernist heavy weights the likes of George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Sigmund Freud in lecture hall arguments for the existence of God and the truth of the incarnation. What characterized Chesterton’s approach and filled the seats with spectators was his light touch, his sense of humor, and his refusal to take himself too seriously.

His well known Orthodoxy was written as a more positive follow-up to his lesser-known Heretics and as an opportunity for him to clarify the set of truths that he had come to believe. Of these beliefs, Chesterton is clear:

“I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” (19)

In his efforts to assemble a creed, Chesterton spent years trying to be “original,” trying to “found a heresy of [his] own, and when [he] had put the last touches to it, [he] discovered that it was orthodoxy.” (23)

And so those of us who cling to and defend objective truth must also realize that we have received something that is not our own. Bending my knee to the content of revelation, I am startled to realize that the point of orthodoxy, the reason for a studied cherishing of rightness in my understanding of God, is not for the purpose of winning arguments, or for the satisfaction of belonging to the right camp, or for the establishment of my resume. Orthodoxy that is not purely for the glory of God can quickly become dead orthodoxy, knowledge for it’s own sake and a safe box for the storage and containment of God.

G.K.Chesterton argues for an orthodoxy that welcomes imagination. He viewed the world through eyes that saw “the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.” When we open our Bibles and read the comforting psalms and the familiar gospel stories, we are also being confronted by the God of Ezekiel’s spinning wheels and the embodiment of some of the more frightening creatures in John’s Revelation. The challenge is a paradox of wonder and welcome, or, as Chesterton put it, “we need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.”

For the believer in Jesus Christ, orthodoxy is a condition of having discovered a truth that makes us and defines us. In humility, we come to understand that this Truth is not our own, but, rather, we belong to the Truth.


Orthodoxy by G.K. ChestertonThis is the beginning of a journey through Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. If you’re following along, let me know in the comments below, and be sure to share any insights you glean along the way. If those insights happen to take the form of a blog post, a link is welcome so we can continue this conversation at your place.

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Finding Rest in Humility

Apparently, in addition to all his better-known gifts, Thomas Jefferson was a gardener. His experimentation with horticulture added over five hundred new fruits and vegetables to the world, but he was never able to successfully cultivate a vineyard at Monticello, his beloved Virginia home.  Here’s why:  the French varieties of grapes he coveted had no resistance to the tiny root louse which feeds on the roots of grapevines and thrives in North American soil.  His dream of a beautiful vineyard was being, quite literally, cut off at the roots.

Hannah Anderson shares Jefferson’s gardening woes as an illustration of the effect of pride on the human heart.  An infestation of pride not only cuts peace and joy off at the roots, but also heightens stress levels and causes the oblivious host to strive for levels of self-sufficiency and competence that we were never meant to shoulder.  In Humble Roots, Hannah shares a number of definitions of humility that give structure to her words and that also reveal the important role that a humble heart plays in the formation of a soul that is both grounded and nourished.

“Humility is accurately understanding ourselves and our place in the world.  Humility is knowing where we came from and who our people are.  Humility is understanding that without God we are nothing.” (56)

In directing our gaze to the lilies of the field, Jesus invites His followers to a humble dependence on His provision.  With 75% of Americans reporting that they experience some level of stress on any given month (21) — and all its attending health issues — a humble acknowledgement of our need can be life-saving.

“Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated.  Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result.” (103)

This clear view of the self reveals that most of our struggles are rooted in a pride that exalts and prioritizes our own feelings over all else.  It takes a certain amount of courage to agree with John the Beloved Disciple’s assessment that God is “greater than our hearts.”  The humble admission that He “knows all things” — and by extension that I do not know all things — is a tremendous first step in admitting the limits of human reason and in acknowledging the truth that all is gift.

“Humility remembers both your human limitation and God’s transcendent power.” (157)

Proverbs 16:9 yields truth that eases my control issues with the knowledge of the choreography that exists between my decision-making and God’s sovereignty, for indeed, plan as I may, it is God who directs my steps.  How glorious that God invites me to dream, while also reassuring me that I need never lose sight of His ultimate control as the One who is writing the patterns for every figure of the dance.

“Humility teaches us to find rest in confession.  Rest from the need to hide, the need to be perfect.  We rest by saying, both to God and others, ‘I am not enough.  I need help.'” (186)

Life here outside The Garden means that no one is immune from brokenness and fallibility, but humility alleviates some of the sting, for when we freely confess our brokenness to God and others, we are free to grieve it, to stop hiding it, and to take grace.

There is irony in Hannah Anderson’s choice of a title for her book, for it quickly becomes clear that it is pride that lives in the roots of humanity.  Thus, it becomes the lifelong journey of the Christian life to uproot all that is harmful (or, depending on one’s perspective, to cooperate with God in His uprooting) and to transplant (by grace) all that redeems.  In the meantime, having read and allowed the truth to land on plowed soil, I’m enjoying the message that “God raised Jesus up because this is how God responds to humility.” (199)

And on this February day in which my refrigerator is playing host to two tomatoes that can only be described as “plastic,” my gardener-soul is nourished by this lovely sentence:

“A sun-ripened tomato is one of God’s clearest acts of common grace.” (118)

In Humble Roots,  Hannah Anderson has drawn a clear connection between the cultivation of those sun-ripened beauties and the pursuit of soul-nourishment, peace, rest, and an end to the ceaseless striving.  Using metaphors as earthy as our clay-based bodies, she cooperates with the Word of God to reveal that the quality of life we most desire will not come to us through power or reason or productivity or any number of quick fixes, but, rather, through roots that are sunk deeply into a theology of need and answering grace — and a humble acceptance of a life that is lived close to the ground.

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.