Thursday, April 15, 2010

Arrogance & Humility at 38,000 Feet


I was feeling rather uncomfortable in seat 2B because I’m not used to life in first-class. In fact, the last time I flew in that part of the plane I was too young to understand what that meant! I was also fairly brain-dead after three or four sixteen-hour-days in a row and so it was a little harder than usual to orient myself to a foreign environment.

My neighbor to the left—yes, the seats and surrounding areas are so large that I’m actually thinking of my fellow passenger as a neighbor—he wasn’t struggling with the first-class thing at all. Quite the opposite. He was a forty-something businessman of some sort who seemed to think the world revolved around him. He barked commands at the flight attendants and didn’t even say thank you until about seven hours into the flight, and even then it was a bit forced. He seemed to envision his “neighbors” as necessary nuisances rather fellow travelers or anything close to equals. At one point he began singing out loud to some song, and I don’t mean muttering under his breath, I mean singing. “We’re going down, yeah, yeah, we’re going down!”

Okay, I’m not the most sensitive guy in the world but we’re flying at 38,000-feet above a frozen tundra which will ensure the death of any survivors if the plane should happen to crash, and this forty-something teenager is singing, “We’re going down, yeah, yeah, we’re going down!”

I felt more pity than disdain for him but I must admit that I did feel a bit of the latter. It seems that in the solar system of his self-conception he is the sun and the planets and everything in between, and I long for him to know God and see how small he really is.

As I pray silently for him and read my book, the flight attendant brings the first of what turns out to be a four-course meal. It’s as good as any meal I’ve eaten this year and given the fact that it’s being served on an airplane it impresses me all the more. The meal did not impress my neighbor. In fact, nothing on the flight did. The one thing he said to me in eight hours was, “I’m really disappointed in this flight. The seats are so small and there’s so little space, it’s like going back in time.” Honestly, I didn’t know what to say and I’m so tired that I can’t remember what I did say.

As I reclined my seat into the “sleeping” position and tried to get some rest, I asked the Lord, “Father, why did you have me sit next to this man? What are you trying to teach me?”

After some meditation, I came to see that the rightful disdain I felt toward this man’s brash arrogance was but a dim reflection of God’s feelings when he sees any amount of arrogance in our hearts. And he sees plenty of it because he looks on the inward things and not on the outward appearances. He sees arrogance when we feign humility. He sees arrogance when we serve others so that we can be recognized for our service. He sees arrogance when we worship or pray or preach in such a way as to draw attention to ourselves rather than to the one who has been so gracious to us. He sees arrogance when we denigrate ourselves and seem so humble but are in fact consumed with thoughts of ourselves.

God sees arrogance in many deep and profound ways, and it grieves him to the core. It is the most powerful God-repellent in the world, and we sinners are full of it. This is why both James and Peter quote that text from Proverbs 3:34 which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” It’s a powerful thing to say that God opposes anything, but with a little thought you can see that he must oppose the proud. Why? Because at the heart of pride is false-worship, idolatry, and self-exaltation.

As I have processed this experience, I’ve come to be so thankful to God for this fellow traveler because he helped me to see something of my own pride and how repulsive it is to God. May our kind and gracious God reveal us to ourselves that we may die and Christ may live! May he give us the desire and strength to obey the command of 1 Peter 5:5 which says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” For humility, in stark contrast to arrogance, is exceedingly attractive to God, indeed, he loves to shower his blessings on the humble of heart.

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