I once heard a pastor say that humility is so shy that if you even whisper her name she immediately departs. I think humility is much rarer than we imagine. This very humility that is so difficult to get and even more difficult to keep is precisely what I think is required in a season such as this very one in which we find ourselves.
We don’t know so much. And that is not a bad place to be. We too often think too highly of ourselves. We assume we know what to do. We assume we know what is best. Suddenly a pandemic inundates our globe and the amount of questions we have is disproportionately greater than our scarce, fragmented answers.
Humility is so precious and yet so overlooked. We are rarely willing to pay a high price for her. So often we assume that humility is a character trait that we already have and which we have in abundance.
Consider with me the Apostle Paul’s reflection on humility as he authors a letter to the church in Philippi. His authoritative standard for humility is Jesus, who though being eternally divine humbles himself by becoming human. His humility dives deeper still. As a human, the one who is eternally God, humbles himself even further by obeying even to the highest extent: his death on a cross. That is humility. To assume that we already possess it is dangerous. I imagine the better posture is to assume we do not possess it and then beg God for it in abundance.
This character trait, this humility, that we so desperately need at all times is precisely what we need at this time. We don’t know so much. And that is not a bad place to be. It is not a bad place to be because it compels us to acknowledge our creatureliness and our dependence. We are not the Creator, we are creatures: creatures who depend on the grace of God to sustain us every nanosecond of our existence. The Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians that it is Christ Jesus himself who holds all things together. Without Him, space and time would themselves be obliterated. But reflect with me for just a moment on how often we live without acknowledging this truth. Oh how we need this uncommon character trait of humbleness.
I think what humility would look like now (and as I type this I recognize the audacity of commenting on what humility might look like) is this acknowledgment that we do not know so much. But I think humility might go further. Even though we are all experiencing a global pandemic for the first time, we are not all equally facing difficulties for the first time. Many have known difficulty so deeply for so long and humility would take the posture of wanting to learn from those who have faced difficulties. This means learning from the marginalized. Those who lack means can teach us how to joyfully maximize what is scarce. The immigrant can teach us how to navigate a world we do not understand. The widow has mourned and can teach us how to mourn. The disabled can teach us how to function in a world in which you cannot access what you used to be able to access. Many in the global church have had to operate without public gathering for decades, imagine how much we could learn!
Jesus has graciously given the church competent teachers to help us navigate through excruciating difficulties. The Holy Spirit has provided the church with his inspired word. We can cling to his unshakeable truth even as everything around us shifts. Yet we can also learn from those who have been rescued by Jesus and who have gone before us and endured agonizing conditions.
Acknowledging our creatureliness means acknowledging our limitedness. It means acknowledging we don’t know so much. It also means acknowledging God’s sanctifying work in the lives of others and acknowledging that they can be our teachers. Whose voice are we not hearing? Whose well-worn voice could disciple us during this difficult pandemic? Whose quiet whisper could guide us to navigate this chaos? Humility might lead us to listen in.