What goes before a fall? The Good Book says ‘Pride’. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18) What is pride, anyway? The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines pride as ‘overweening opinion of one’s own qualities, merits’ and ‘proud’ as ‘haughty, arrogant’.
Roget’s Thesaurus speaks of the double-edged nature of pride. Many people use the term to refer to satisfaction in their children’s accomplishments, or to self-respect. But Roget’s Thesaurus reminds that pride is also connected to “arrogance, haughtiness, insolence, loftiness, lordliness, overbearingness, presumption, superiority, narcissism, vanity, egotism.” Hence we see the origin of the 1960’s slang phrase “ego trip”.
Why is pride spoken of as the first of the seven deadly sins? Perhaps because pride causes us to forget our Maker: “your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, the land of slavery.” Pride is basically non-productive and unteachable: “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice”. (Proverbs 13:10) Pride is self-destructive: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”(Proverbs 11:10) Pride is the spirit of the mocker: “The proud and arrogant man-“Mocker” is his name; he behaves with overweening pride.” (Proverbs 21:24). In High School, many ‘Big Men on Campus’ become proud and mocking while they are ‘the big fish in a small pond’. But things change when they go into the real world. Pride goes before a fall.
The most difficult thing about pride is that it is like bad breath: easy to detect in others, and hard to detect in ourselves. Pride has to do with a sense of entitlement, that we deserve everything that we have, that the world owes us a living. The most famous human being once said in Mark 7:22 that pride comes from within our hearts and actually makes us unclean (non-kosher). Pride separates from others, by seducing us into thinking that we are better than others. Pride is the root cause of every caste system, every class system, and every system of racial hatred. That is why the Good Book says: “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:16) Pride goes before a fall.
Pride makes it very difficult to admit our need for anyone else, even God himself. Pride feeds the illusion that we are completely independent and self-sufficient. That is why Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s Kingdom. Yet real breakthrough happens when we admit our need, our helpless and powerless over life’s struggles.
CS Lewis’ wife, Joy Davidman, resisted her need for God for many years. She writes: “God had been stalking me for a very long time, waiting for his moment; he crept nearer so silently that I never knew he was there. Then, all at once, he sprang. For the first time in my life I felt helpless; for the first time my pride was forced to admit that I was not, after all, ‘the master of my fate’.”
Pride and humility are total opposites. That is why both James and Peter quote Proverbs 3:10 that “God opposes and resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Let me ask you a question: Do we really want the Maker of the Universe to be opposing and resisting us? Yet that is what is guaranteed if we don’t deal with the pride issue. God will resist us at work, at home, in society. Pride may not be a big deal to us, but it certainly is to God. Why is God so opposed to pride? Because it cripples our ability to really love others around us. As the famous poem in 1st Corinthians 13 puts it, love is not proud. Why are so many people successful in business and failures at home? Pride goes before a fall.
Pride, like alcohol addiction, is cunning, baffling, and powerful. It is almost impossible to destroy head-on. The secret to taming one’s pride is gratitude and thanksgiving. As John Fischer puts it, “a thankful heart cancels out pride and arrogance. No need to judge other people when you are thankful for who you are. No need to measure yourself by and compare yourself to others when you are thankful for what God has done in your life.” Gratitude is a deep sense that life is a gift from a gracious giver. Gratitude is best expressed by the ancient words: “All things come from You, O Lord, and of your own have we given You.”
My prayer for those reading this article is that each of us will gratefully lay our pride and self-sufficiency down at the foot of our Maker.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector
BSW, MDiv, DMin
-an article for the December 2010 Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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