Humility and the Fear of the Lord
While the dictionary may define “humility” as a low view of one’s importance, that’s not quite the Biblical view of humility.
“The first step of humility is to cherish at all times the sense of awe with which we should turn to God.”
– Benedict of Nursia, "Rule", via Common Prayer, pg. 313
While the dictionary may define “humility” as a low view of one’s importance, that’s not quite the Biblical view of humility. The biblical view of humility is to view ourselves rightly, neither too lowly nor too highly.
When we see ourselves as image-bearers of God, we cannot see ourselves as too high or too low. We see our need for a savior because of our wounded nature, but we also see our worth as his representatives on earth.
When we look to God, we see two things. First, we see God’s greatness with a sense of awe, as Benedict wrote. Viewing the perfection of God throws into sharp relief our brokenness. When we see that, we begin to see ourselves as totally unable to save ourselves. But, second, we see our worth in that God would humble and lower himself to us to save us. Jesus humbled himself (Philippians 2:5-11) by truly lowering himself to us. When we see the lengths that the perfect God went through to save us, we cannot see ourselves, nor anyone else, as worthless, but as of absolutely great worth.
I think that C.S. Lewis said it well:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
When we see ourselves rightly, we see that we are not too great to stoop and help the poor, weak, and needy, because the perfect God came to earth to save them. But for God’s grace, we would be them. We are of equal worth.
And when we see ourselves rightly, we cannot help but turn to God Almighty and accept with faith the sacrifice of the Son for us. We cannot be too proud to see God’s offer of salvation as unnecessary, but neither can we be too proud to see God’s offer of salvation as too good for us.
You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it;
you are not pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.
— Psalms 51:16-17 (CSB)
God doesn’t want us to do what is right to approach him (to offer a “burnt offering”), but to recognize that we can never be worthy of approaching him. May our hearts be broken and humbled before you, O Lord God.