In the Book of Sirach (3:17), we are told to, “Conduct your affairs with humility.” Likewise, in the Gospel of Luke (14:11), we’re told that “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” So the lesson is obvious. We are to be humble.
But in order for us to appreciate this lesson, we need to understand exactly what is meant by the word, “humble” when it is used in Sacred Scripture.
When we hear the word humble we think of a meek, submissive, non-assertive individual. But the English word “humility” is derived from the Latin word “humus”, which means earth, ground or soil. The word “humble”, therefore, means, being close to the earth, or being well grounded. Or to say it another way, to be humble is to be grounded in reality, to recognize reality, to acknowledge reality, to accept reality and live in accord with that reality. To be humble is to be down to earth or realistic with who and what we are, and who and what we were meant to be.
The Letter to the Hebrews (12:18-19, 22-24) makes the statement that, “God is the judge of all.” This phrase makes a very important point in our understanding of the word humility. Sacred Scripture clarifies this point in the Epistle of James (4:11-12). “Don’t criticize and speak evil about each other, dear brothers. If you do, you will be fighting against God’s law of loving one another, declaring it is wrong. But your job is not to decide whether this law is right or wrong, but to obey it. Only He who made the law can rightly judge among us. He alone decides to save us or destroy. So what right do you have to judge or criticize others?
In order for us to know what it means to be humble, there are some very basic principles that we need to understand.
First of all, God created each and every one of us. He alone is the author of life. We did absolutely nothing to bring ourselves into being. We, therefore, deserve no merit for our presence here.
Secondly, all men and women are created equal. Before God, there is no higher or lower type of human being. There may be some seriously different important characteristics between individuals but these differences do not render someone lower or less worthy of respect than anyone else.
Thirdly, falseness or phoniness of any kind has no place in the life of any human being. This attitude shows a basic disrespect for our Creator. Being a phony or a fake is as if we were saying to God that we could have done a better job ourselves. It follows, therefore, that humiliation and shame is just as wrong as arrogance.
“To be arrogant is basically to believe that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people.” (Webster’s Dictionary) On the other hand, you may have been insulted, your ego bruised or your pride hurt, but remember, at the end of the day, the only opinion of yourself that matters is your own. (Emotional Competency by Leland R. Beaumont) In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
And lastly, in relation to God and regarding our place in heaven, we can earn nothing. God cannot be bribed. Just as our earthly life is a gift from God, so too is our eternal life. God’s gift of eternal life comes to us entirely free. It is lovingly given to us purely as God’s gift. We are free to respond to that gift any way that we choose, but God’s love and His gifts are eternal.
We can hear and understand those principles but I do believe that we, as human beings, are somewhat handicapped in our ability to fully implement them in our lives. I say this in recognition of our human condition. I remember, in my first psychology class in college, we were studying the importance of the early formative years in the life of any individual. And I remember our instructor saying that, “By the time a newborn child reaches six months of age, his or her adult personality has already been formed.” I found that hard to believe at the time, but our textbook emphasized this point by saying that, “The core attitudes or perspective of the world and ourselves is fully formed before we turn seven years old.” If those two statements are correct, then that means that the tools that we need to fully assess our reality were developed before we had a fully refined use of our reasoning.
Consequently, as adults, we still possess an immature and unreasoned outlook toward our reality. How can we be realistic and down to earth in our relationships and attitudes towards others if we don’t have a realistic and confident concept of who and what we are as a person?
This question simply emphasizes why the virtue of humility is so critical. To be humble is to recognize these four principles. We are all God’s creatures. We are all created equal. We are not to be phony, artificial or fake. And God’s gifts cannot be earned. They can only be accepted or rejected.
Our best example of humility is our Lord Jesus himself, who calls us to Himself, for He said, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11:29)