Reimagine Humility

Bethany Jenkins gives us a window into the path to true humility (thanks to our southern correspondent):

To live out the fullness of our liberty, though, we must get rid of our arrogant, controlling, slow-to-hear, quick-to-speak, know-it-all spirits. In a 1995 sermon titled “Growth Through Hearing Truth,” Tim Keller highlights three characteristics of a proud heart:

A proud heart argues for every one of its convictions because it can’t distinguish between major and minor points. Instead, it says: “Any belief—because it’s mine—is a major belief.”
A proud heart either enjoys or avoids confronting, but never confronts with tears.
A proud heart is unhappy with life and, instead of receiving it as a gift, always gripes about how things are going.

The opposite of a proud and angry heart is humility, not self-control. And it’s our internal postures—not our external circumstances—that determine our happiness.

But why doesn’t humility involve submitting to God’s revealed will? Jenkins’ lesson in humility stemmed from a difficult encounter at the check-out line — wait for it — on Sunday:

On Sunday afternoon, in the checkout line at the grocery store, I put a man on trial. He made no argument and offered no defense, but I judged him guilty.

I went there to pick up three things—fruit, deli meat, and club soda. When I got to the only open line, there was just one man ahead of me. This is going to be quick, I assumed.

After the cashier started ringing up his items, though, he decided it was a good time to ask where the premade guacamole was. “Aisle 5,” she said. Then he left his place in line to find it.

When he returned a few minutes later, the cashier had finished scanning his items and customers had started lining up, but his hands were empty. He hadn’t found the guacamole. “It’s on aisle 7,” another store employee said. “On the bottom shelf.” The man again went to search.

Five minutes later, with eight customers now in line, he finally checked out. And I was annoyed. Why did he wait and ask the cashier? Why didn’t he ask someone else before he got in line? How could he inconvenience the rest of us like this? The only reasonable answer, I concluded, was that he was rude, incompetent, and narcissistic.

As I walked home, though, I wondered why my heart went so easily to judgment and anger, not to grace and mercy. Why did I spend so much time mentally logging the reasons he was guilty, not the reasons he might need grace? Why did my time need so much defending?

I know it’s easy to throw the Reformed Protestant penalty flag on this one and emerge as the righteous one who keeps the law, though actually keeping the Lord’s Day holy is difficult and sometimes means having to go without food items for one day that you forgot to pick up on Saturday, not to mention trying not think about “worldly employments and recreations” on Sunday. In the heat of the pennant race, avoiding baseball scores until Monday morning is one thing, but not thinking about the game being played is a whole other layer of sanctity. It’s also easy to take a shot at the Gospel Allies who promote sanctification and a holistic gospel but then publish a piece that so flagrantly acknowledges conduct that would have gotten any Christian for almost 1950 years in trouble with his session or priest. Can’t the Allies at least acknowledge a diversity of views on the Lord’s Day and walk circumspectly around it? If I get flack for talking about The Wire, can’t Jenkins get push back for breaking the Fourth Commandment? (And what exactly is Tim Keller teaching Jenkins?)

But aside from the letter of the law or even ignoring a law, might the means of grace be a way to learn the humility that Jenkins thought she found? What if sanctifying the Lord’s Day is in fact a means of grace? And what if submitting to God’s law is a way to say not my but your will be done, not my convenience because I didn’t order my week but your teaching on how order our lives in this world? What if the piety that the pietists seek is right there before them in the not so hip or urban ways of Reformed Protestantism — two services on the Lord’s Day regulated by and filled with Scripture, catechesis, family visitation, family worship, and not doing worldly things on Sunday? Imagine how much humility that gospel coalition might yield.