One aspect of a post-Christian society is the normality of pride. Pride no longer means arrogance. It means self-definition, self-assertion, self-confidence. This is all seen as good, normal, and healthy. We Christians need to understand this normalisation of pride today because it makes Christianity sound unrealistic and implausible. I introduced these ideas in my previous post in this series.
The Bible is crazy enough to warn us that this kind of self-assertion is actually dangerous and destructive. It makes us kick God out of our lives, and willing to oppress each other.
Adam & Eve
In one sense, pride was the first human sin, the sin of Adam & Eve. Augustine of Hippo calls pride “the origin of our evil will” – the original sin.Augustine, City of God, book 14 ch 13 The snake first invited Eve to doubt God’s warning where in Genesis 3:1 he states: “did God really say…?“, then outright contradicted God’s word in Genesis 3:4, “no – you will not die!” (note how the New American Standard Bible and the Christian Standard Bible translate that verse).
Adam and Eve believed the snake. They started to believe that God was preventing them from reaching their full potential. They started to believe that God’s way of life was boring and restrictive. That meant God was bad, wrong, and evil. And it meant that real life, and real freedom, came from ignoring God, rejecting his way of life, and choosing our own way of life instead.
And so Adam and Eve reached up and attempted to make themselves gods. ‘This is my world, my little kingdom, and I’m going to rule it my way. God – you’re fired.’
And in doing so, they fell down. God judged them by kicking them out of the Garden of Eden, and sending them into a world full of disease, pain, fear, and death – the kind of world we’re still living in now.
What Adam and Eve did – thinking they know better than God, that they can rule their lives better than God can – is pride. And this kind of pride kills.
Pride also drove the people who built the tower of Babel. Genesis 11:3 refers to early technology – bricks and mortar. Technology isn’t bad – it’s a good thing. It’s an aspect of us ruling and improving the world as God’s image-bearers. The problem is: it tends to feed our pride. Technology reinforces our belief that we can rule the world, not for God, but in the place of God. It feeds our desire to be independent from God, and congratulate ourselves instead of worshipping him. This is what Genesis 11:4 means when it says the builders wanted to make a “name for” themselves. The tower was to be a monument to themselves, a celebration of human achievement. ‘Together, we can build a better world’.
But God comes down, looks at this puny little tower, and judges men by confusing our languages, and breaking our anti-God union.
Pride destroys unity. It breaks relationships. The reality of different languages alienates us from each other. We can’t understand each other, so we don’t trust each other, and can’t work together. We all know how frustrating it is when people ignore us, or don’t listen carefully to us. We feel insulted, because we’re not being ‘heard’. If we’re honest, we’ll admit we’ve done it to others. I know I have. I’ve been too busy, or too tired, or too distracted, to pay attention to what someone is saying to me – especially if they’re not ‘important’.
Pride is destructive. It destroys relationships – with God, and each other.
And ever since the tower of Babel, instead of one world government, what we have is international imperialism – one nation rising up and conquering the world. And that imperial overlord enriches itself by taking the wealth and resources of the nations it conquers for itself.
That’s what Babylon did. Daniel 1 records how the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, took the wealth of both the temple and the palace to Babylon, and took all the smart young men to Babylon as well, in order to make them Babylonian servants. That’s what Babylon did to all the nations they conquered. That’s how they built things like the hanging gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
That’s also why King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon could boast that he had built “great Babylon… as the royal residence“, by his power, and for his glory – Daniel 4:30. We cringe when we read that, because it sounds so arrogant. But his claim is actually perfectly reasonable! Nebuchadnezzar ruled the biggest, richest, most powerful empire in the ancient near east at that time. He was the biggest, richest, most powerful king in the world! The glory, beauty, and luxury of his capital city testified to what he and his people had achieved – and he was proud of it.
But God humbled him. The rest of Daniel 4 tells how God made Nebuchadnezzar go mad, so that he acted like an animal. But God is kind enough to eventually restore his sanity, so that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon and emperor over the whole known world of the time, praised God as the one who humbles the proud – Dan 4:37 c.f. Luke 1:51-53.
Pride is stupid. It’s irrational, it’s mad. It makes us do crazy, embarrassing things. The smart, rational, reasonable thing to do is have the humility to worship God and serve his Christ – Psalm 2:10-12.
My kingdom come
These are three Biblical examples of how sin expresses itself in pride. Pride is not necessarily obnoxious arrogance. But it expresses itself in our independence from God, and our sense of entitlement – that everyone around us has to treat us with the honour and respect and deference that we deserve, because we’re worth it.
We feel this at home, when we snap at our spouse, or the kids. ‘I just want some space! I just want some peace! I’ve been working hard all day! I’ve been slaving over a hot stove to cook you this dinner!’ It happens at work, when someone else gets a promotion. ‘Why did they get the promotion?’ we grumble to ourselves. ‘I’m as good as them. Why do they get the pay rise and the nice office?’ So we seethe with inward resentment. It happens at school, when our class ranking slips – we used to be third in the year, now we’re tenth – or someone else gets the class prize, or the scholarship. And we get frightened and anxious, because we’ve tied our sense of personal value to our academic performance.
None of these are necessarily wrong. We work hard all day, so it’s perfectly reasonable to want some quiet time at home. We may deserve more recognition than we get at work. And when we’re looking for a job, academic performance does matter. So of course we worry about our marks and our academic ranking.
But the problem is – in our pride, we put ourselves in the middle of everything. We are proud of ourselves – in our hard work at school, or University, or home, or in our job. And so when we don’t get what we think we deserve, we get angry. Or resentful. Or anxious, frightened, or depressed. We are all little Nebuchadnezzars. We build our little kingdoms, demand everyone celebrate our achievements – and if they don’t, we go to war with them. And our kingdoms are little Babels, seeking our own glory apart from God. And we’re all Adam & Eve. Our pride dethrones God. We say to God ‘my kingdom come, my will be done, on earth, and in heaven’.
And in all this, we are completely at odds with Jesus and his humility. This is the topic for our next post.
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|1.||↑||Augustine, City of God, book 14 ch 13|