Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Coward (The Six Shades of Sin, Part V)

"Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!" Is. 5:21

You would not immediately think that pride is so very much like fear, but it is. Pride is a gnawing insecurity, a nagging doubt like a splinter in the mind. It covers your whole world in a deep darkness, with the unknown rising like walls around you. Panic sets in easily, and from panic comes the desire to end the panic, to disperse the darkness. Fear is the soil in which pride will bloom, for fear desires control, and what else is pride but the state of believing that you are in control: of your circumstances, your troubles, and other people's circumstances and troubles? The prideful are schemers and manipulators, puppet masters and control freaks, but they are not strong or brave. They think that they are strong and brave, but they are not. The prideful man or woman is the coward locked nine doors deep behind the infinite webbing of their cobweb castle. They have contingencies for every variable and defenses for every threat, not because they are strong and brave, but because they are weak and fearful and know it. Far behind that sneering veneer of smug self-sufficiency lies the timid weakling who dares not let anything out of their control. They declare themselves to be the wisest and the most prudent because they must be the wisest and the most prudent, for planning is everything with them, and without their precious little plans the wildness of real life (and the real God) will come crashing in on them, and they fear that they will not survive the collision.

The substance of real things is in paradox, and here we find another: whereas the "strength" and "bravery" of the prideful is all smoke and mirrors, so the truly brave and strong may seem to be weaklings (or at the very least fools). They have no plan, or at least no thoughts of a full-proof plan. They have no delusions of grand schemes to order all things, nor are they obsessed with the poisonous notion that they can control their circumstances. Consequently, they neither desire nor seek domination: not of their surroundings, or lives, or the surroundings and lives of others. They acknowledge their own smallness before all things and have accepted it. They also acknowledge the reality of things greater than they and thus submit to that fact. They cannot change their birth, nor whom they meet, or what comes in a day, or any of the endless surprises of ordinary life, and they do not attempt to change them.

As pride is the product of fear, so only humility can produce bravery. If you every think yourself to be greater than your circumstances, you will become controlling rather than brave, digging yourself deeper and farther away from real things. However, the instant that you acknowledge (and take joy in) your own smallness, you realize that fear profits you nothing, for it can neither add one cubit to your stature nor save you. No man takes his life into his own hands, for our lives belong to the hand of someone greater, and herein lies one of the secret beauties of Christianity. Many a pagan culture believed in the smallness of their own lives, and although it made life beautiful in a sense, it was a beautiful tragedy, full of random chaos and ending in death. For the Christian, however, life is a comedy, the deep comedy of God, and it is on that joyous rock that we live and move and have our being. Humility is not found in bowing down before the inevitable, impersonal mutability of all things but rather in resting in the love of the personal, immutable God of all things. There can be great bravery in acknowledging your own smallness; there can also be great despair. But there can be nothing but a bountiful supply of bravery and joy for those who acknowledge their smallness before the God who loves them and is for them (Rom. 8:31-39). It is the way of Christ, who, being God, made Himself small, humbling Himself before the will of His Father; and in the strength of that fundamental humility, He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8), the cross that only the brave can bear (Matt. 16:24-25).

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

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