Humility is Relationship

Humility is a word that describes a relationship: one person is humble in comparison to another. In Christianity, humility describes first my relationship to God and then to others. I am humble next to God who created me out of nothing, a small mortal creature virtually lost in a vast universe. My status compared to God is next to nothing; I have more in common with a slug than with God. I would utterly disappear in the vastness of creation except for one thing: I am created in His image, capable of partaking in His divine nature.

This puts me in a unique position: small in size but vast in meaning. The Psalmist says it better than I can:

When I look at thy heavens, the work of your fingers,  	
the moon and the stars which you have established;  
what is man that you are mindful of him,  	
and the son of man that you care for him?  
Yet you have made him little less than God (elohim),  	
and crowned him with glory and honor.  
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;  	
you have put all things under his feet. (Ps 8, RSV)  

If this doesn’t set you back a bit, you’re not paying attention. But wait, there’s more. Christianity tells us that we are created for divinization (not divination, “summoning the spirits to read the future”), which is for each person to partake in some way in God’s divine nature. Divinization does not replace our human nature but perfects it by joining it to God’s divine nature. I do not become God, rather, by participating in His nature, I become more perfectly myself. I move toward greatheartedness, the courage to seek what is great and to be worthy of it, being generous and affirming and encouraging others to share in it.

Here’s the crazy part. This divinization happens only when we permit ourselves to be completely humbled by God. With God, our status is absolute and from this, our status with respect to others become clear. When meeting in the doctor’s office, the bank president is humble, but when the doctor seeks a loan from the bank, the relationship is reversed. In the context of the absolute humility before God, the relative humility between others is easier to accept.

However, if the humility before God is refused, pride tempts us to refuse humility to others. Ambition then pushes the boundaries, even to the point of harming ourselves and others for the sake of our pride. Striking an attitude of pride before God blocks the connection with Him. Loss of that connection dims the spark of divinity within and the potential for greatness is diminished. In the end, the struggle for status between persons becomes muddled, hierarchies becomes rigid and power struggles grow. We wither rather than flourish.

Humility teaches me truth about who I am, my strengths and weaknesses, what I can and cannot do. In other words, it describes my proper status in the world so that I am properly oriented toward my authentic growth.

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I am a retired family physician from rural Iowa and have an MA in Theology from Franciscan University at Stubenville, OH. While my native language is evangelical Protestant, I am fluent in traditional Catholic as well.

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