“For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 2017:125
There is one sin that is worse than all others. It is the worst because it is insidious and imperceptibly deceptive. It is always at the root of all other sins. It was the original sin. In C.S. Lewis’s classic book, Mere Christianity, it warranted an entire chapter (“The Great Sin”) and Lewis claims that it is the greatest threat to any person – including the Christian – and their standing before God. Thus, to be truly spiritual, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, and spiritual, demands that the man or woman of God be on guard against what Lewis called “spiritual cancer” — pride. To have any chance of guarding against the spread of this deadly spiritual and character blighting ‘cancer’ requires that we adopt a decreasing vision of ‘greatness’.
He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John the Baptist, John 3:30
THE PROBLEM WITH RECOGNISING PRIDE
C.S. Lewis tells us what we all already know about spotting pride: we loathe it when we see it in someone else, but never (except for Christians) imagine that we are guilty of it ourselves (p. 121). In fact, Lewis continues, the problem is that the more easily we can recognise pride in someone else the more likely we are guilty of the same pride. We are all quick to justify or excuse ourselves of our own pride, and just as quick to condemn it in others as inexcusable.
The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
THE ESSENCE OF PRIDE IS COMPETITIVE
How we think about pride and humility is very often confused and unhelpful. In John DIckson’s book, Humilitas, he defines humility as withholding your power for the good of others. He gives the illustration of a black man in the 1930s sitting at the back of a bus in Detroit (USA) when a three teenage white boys got on the bus at the next stop. The young boys soon start to call the black man names and taunt him. This taunting intensified until the black man came to his stop and stood to leave the bus. The boys were surprised that he was much taller than they had realised. As he walked up to the boys he reached into his pocket and gave one of them a business card on his way past, and then got off the bus. After he left the boys looked at the business card which simply read: Joe Louis, Boxer. These three boys had just picked a fight with the undefeated world heavyweight boxing champion. Joe Louis, in the opinion of Dr. John Dickson, displayed great humility. Did Joe Louis know that he could dispatch these young men? Certainly. Was that confidence that he had in his ability a form of pride? Yes and no. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that there is a virtuous pride that comes from working hard and achieving a desired outcome. We expect this of tradesmen. We want them to take pride in the work. This kind of pride, Lewis argues, is for the good of others. The ‘others’ in this instance could be a student’s parents as he or she strives to do their schoolwork for the pride of their family name. A teacher may encourage this in her students when she tells them, “Take some pride in your work and rewrite this essay.”
“We say in English that a man is ‘proud’ of his son, or his father, or his
school, or regiment, and it may be asked whether ‘pride’ in this sense is a sin.
I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by ‘proud of’. Very often, in such
sentences, the phrase ‘is proud of means ‘has a warm-hearted admiration for’.
Such an admiration is, of course, very far from being a sin.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
But Lewis contrasts this desirable pride with the cancerous pride of competitiveness.
“In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask
yourself, `How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take
any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me,. or show off ?’ The
point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride.”
Lewis writes, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.” Pride is therefore the attitude of considering ourselves to be better than another. Lewis is quick to point out that this does not mean thinking less of ourselves, but rather that we should each think less about ourselves! The ultimate pride is therefore atheism. The atheist’s pride reaches to the heavens and at its core wants to be better than the Supreme Being.
“In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably
superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know
yourself as nothing in comparison -you do not know God at all.” – C.S. Lewis
DECREASING INTO GREATNESS
Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest man who has ever lived (Matt. 11:11). John had been drawing huge crowds to his baptisms (Matt. 3:5). When Jesus came on the scene, the crowds dissipated and went after Jesus (Matt. 4:25). John’s response is the inspiration for the title of this week’s Pastor’s Desk – He must increase and I must decrease. And I find in John’s words the essence to true humility and the antidote to cancerous pride. To be great – truly great – requires this kind of attitude. To be a great follower of Christ we must be others focused, thinking less about ourselves, prepared to serve without praise, forgive without apology, repent without pretense, and prepared to praise and thank others even if we are not. This is, I fear, what it means to decrease and allow Christ to increase in our lives.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
5 Things We Need To Do To Break Our Church’s 200 Barrier, Premium Audio
Apologetics Part 1 – Introduction To Apologetics, Premium Audio
Apologetics Part 2 – The Apologetic Arguments For God, Premium Audio
Apologetics Part 3 – The Apologetic Arguments For The Bible, Premium Audio