Thoughts on Humility

What is humility? What does it mean to be humble? What does Bible say about humility?

There are a lot of definitions. Let’s try to start with something simple first. If you Google the word, the definition coming up front is “a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.”. Whereas Merriam-Webster defines it as “freedom from pride or arrogance”

Simply put, it is the notion that one should defer himself or herself before others – to submit before somebody – to not be arrogant. One good example would be this story from the book I am reading now – The Call by Os Guinness. This is a very good book and I really recommend you to read it – especially when you’re still looking for His Will. The story was quoted here in a verbatim manner:

Few are more moving than the burial ceremony of the Habsburg emperors, who were laid to rest in the vaults of the Capuchin monastery in Vienna. When Emperor Frans Josef died, the grand cortege arrived at the closed doors of the monastery and a herald knocked at the gate. From within the voice of the Abbot could be heard asking:

“Who are you, who knocks?”

“I am Frans Josef, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary,” the Herald replied.

“I don’t know you. Tell me again who you are.”

“I am Frans Josef, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Bohemia, Galicia, Lodomeria, and Dalmatia, Grand Duke of Transylvania, Margrave of Moravia, Duke of Styria and Corinthia . . . ”

“We still don’t know you. Who are you?” the sepulchral voice reiterated. Whereupon the herald knelt down and said:

“I am Frans Josef, a poor sinner humbly begging for God’s mercy.”

“Thou mayest enter then,” the Abbot said and the gates were flung open.

For me, the story above is reminiscent of a particular passage from the Bible. It was when Elijah the man of God was called by Israelite King Ahaziah. Ahaziah was an evil king and as such, he would like to account Elijah for his portents against him. The story was quoted from 2 Kings 1:9-15 (ESV) :

Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his fifty. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

Again the king sent to him another captain of fifty men with his fifty. And he answered and said to him, “O man of God, this is the king’s order, ‘Come down quickly!’” But Elijah answered them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

Again the king sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up and came and fell on his knees before Elijah and entreated him, “O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight. Behold, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties, but now let my life be precious in your sight.” Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So he arose and went down with him to the king

You can see that in those two coinciding stories, there are similarities. Three tries with two failures and one success. The successful one was simply due to humility alone. Frans Josef admits that he is a sinner in need of God’s mercy while the third captain humbly begs for his and his fifty servant’s life. Both know that they are not having the upper hand. They have no bargaining power no matter what they say or what they do.

Reflecting on that, I would like to go on a bit of etymology here. The word humility in Ancient Greek is ταπεινοφροσύνη or tapeinophrosune. Strong’s Greek defines it as “moderation as regulated by inner perspective”. I think the definition here also strikes to the heart of its meaning. One who is humble moderate/regulate him/herself to a relative position, depending on contextual elements. It’s a matter of reorientation.

It’s about reorienting yourself below someone who is indeed superior to you in a certain aspect (in two study cases above, God) while also reorienting yourself above someone who is indeed below you, so you can help them or teach them. That is not to say that you’re being arrogant – it’s just to be in a level where it’s proper. Humility doesn’t mean that we have to stand idle while someone with ill intent berates us. There are people in this world who are experts at abusing our naive meekness, selfishly establishing themselves above us while if we are to objectively evaluate their position, they are supposedly below us.

Humility is a constant introspection of our relative position so we can avoid being arrogant or being inferior. Arrogance is a state of thought where we consider ourselves higher than we are supposed to be. Inferiority is a state of thought where we consider ourselves lower than we are supposed to be. We are to be humble before our President who, if they are following God is worthy of submission. At the same time, we are humble when we are being firm at dispensing justice to hypocrites and other evildoers who corrupt the society through their inflated-self ego.

Our greatest role model in this context is, of course, Jesus Christ. While ministering to the sinners or society’s outcasts, Jesus Christ stoops to their level by eating or communing with them, while also raising them up through His miracles and teachings. He does not condescend them like the Pharisees who abuse their religious standing by showing how superior they are compared to the sinners.

We can also see the contrast when Jesus Christ face the Pharisees or the Sadducees. Regardless of your opinion of Him, whether He is God, Man, or God-Man, He is a paragon of highest form of virtue there is. Yet, if you read the Gospel thoroughly, never did Jesus being courteous or polite to those religious leaders. He constantly mocks, jeers, and even embarrasses them in front of all people. He throws diatribes against them – calling them Leavens, Unmarked Graves, Lovers of Money, and even Brood of Vipers! One can even say that Jesus was being fully sarcastic to those hypocrites. How is it that this discourteousness considered as humility? Because Jesus is simply establishing themselves above them, which is the order of things. He is being humble in the sense that He is putting himself above those stiff-necked ecclesiastical abusers, who are too sure of their false conception of salvation.

You see the contrast? He is meek in accompanying the sinners who are in need of His ministry. He is forthright, sarcastic, and even rude to the Pharisees who really need to be bruised and floored to where they truly belong – the lowest position there is.

What Jesus is doing is the foretaste of the Kingdom of God – a place/state where people no longer see each other higher or lower according to their carnal eyes, but a place/state where everyone spiritually deems themselves as equal sinners before God – where they defer wholly before God’s redeeming grace.

True humility will not be attained without knowing Christ.

I would like to close this post with this short quotation from Scripture:

James 4: 6b-7, ESV

“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

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Christian Praxis

What it means to be a Christian, you might ask? What is its Praxis (a process where an idea is reflected, embodied, and realized in concrete actions)?

Like many Christians and perhaps non-Christians, I have been asking that question all the days of my Christian life. Going to church, reading His Word, serving in a ministry, being a good person, fighting for people’s rights, obeying the authorities, following Christ, avoiding sin, etc.

And yet, if you analyze those answers carefully, you might think that those answers are very functional – those answers cover only certain areas of life while life is, of course, greater than the sum of those parts.

Because it turns out, that perhaps when is doing all of those pious things above, he/she might not be a Christian. Probably he/she is just being moral and that’s it. Probably he/she is doing what’s expected of a social construct and that’s it. Probably he/she is just pleasing his/her own hunches and yet hunches itself might be wrong.

So, is there any definitive statement what a Christian ought to be?

For this question, I have to turn in to the linguistic and theological brilliance of C.S. Lewis, whose book God in the Dock I am currently reading. The book is filled with a lot of his essays on various topics, and included within also a set of Q&A from many believers and unbelievers of his time. Verbatim:

QUESTIONER: Will you please say how you would define a practicing Christian? Are there any other varieties?

LEWIS: Certainly there are a great many other varieties. It depends, of course, on what you mean by ‘practicing Christian’. IF you mean one who has practiced Christianity in every respect at every moment of his life, then there is only One on record – Christ Himself. In that sense, there are no practicing Christians, but only Christians who, in varying degrees, try to practice it and fail in varying degrees and then start again. A perfect practice of Christianity would, of course, consist in a perfect imitation of the life of Christ – I mean, in so far as it was applicable in one’s own particular circumstances. Not in an idiotic sense – it doesn’t mean that every Christian should grow a beard, or be a bachelor, or become a traveling preacher. It means that every single act and feeling, every experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, must be referred to God. It means looking at everything as something that comes from Him, and always looking to Him and asking His will first, and saying: ‘How would He wish me to deal with this?

The bolded section above was my own emphasis. I would like to stress how Lewis negates the usual absolute binary (practicing Christian / non-practicing Christian). He used the term ‘degrees’ which really captures the relative world we live in. He accommodates the sinful condition we live in and by that fact, we can’t truly live a perfect Christian life as Christ lived. The Christian life is concrete and not effortless.

Furthermore, it also stresses the relational aspect of a Christian’s life. As Christians, we are not to resort solely to our frail humanity, but to resort to our relation to Him, constantly asking, beckoning, confirming, clarifying, while at the same time live in complete obedience to His will.

It is a life full of struggle. It is a life of cross-bearing. It is a life of sacrifice.

To close this whole blog, I think it is safe for me to put Christian Praxis as:

To live as Christlike as possible, as Christ would in your condition. 

Learning & Unlearning

 ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.’

– Mahatma Gandhi

Lifelong Learner. That’s one of the values oft-treasured today. A natural affinity towards learning which of course will come very handy for students and laymen alike. Since the constant state of learning will keep mind afresh and helps one adapt to any environment.

But learning forever might not be all that handy. Sometimes you have to unlearn too. Not everything you’ve learned will be of effective practical usage. Some are just there in your brain as trivia. Cool indeed to know, but if it can’t improve one’s life, what good does it do? Some stuff you’ve learned might also be wrong and time will prove it. Why keep useless baggage in your brain?

You need to unlearn it, then. However, you can’t just delete the information right away from your brain using a delete button! We are not computers who can erase such things easily. The process of unlearning / deletion of such information comes naturally. Like old memories, the more we think of new experiences or memories, the more will those old memories or contents fade away. Our neurons will naturally select the relevant memories from time to time and help us learn new contents in a very efficient way. It’s a bit like Darwin’s Natural Selection but in a neuronal way.

Remember, our brain’s neurons have a very good level of plasticity – it can bend its performance and information according to our need. What we need to do is simply to constantly and practically assess our living in a more introspective and retroactive way that our brain will naturally follow suit and constantly be in this state of positive flux of progressive consciousness – leading to a continual higher state of mind.

Our neuron systems are organic, not synthetic. Organics grow and adapt; synthetics neither grow nor adapt – they are just there as the program limits it. Organics always have more potential than synthetics.

Our brains are always on. It can never be turned off. It’s just whether we optimize it fully or just use it sparingly, leaving ourselves to the mercy of our basic impulses.

Sapere Aude!

Omnipathy

Omniscient comes from Latin word “Omni” which means all and “scient” which means know. In short, Omniscient means the ability to know ALL things in the world, be it in the past, present, or future. It’s one of the known attributes of God in Christianity and by proxy, also other religions in the world.

What I’m going to introduce now is a term called “Omnipathy”. It’s not a term that is included in world’s best dictionaries. It’s actually a term coined by myself or perhaps somebody else in the world. It’s a portmanteau of “Omni” (all) and “pathy” (feeling). It’s like Telepathy – but on a universal scale: The ability to feel every emotion that is felt by every single being in the world. The ability to feel all feelings felt by mankind. The ability to bask in the basic spectrum of emotion such as Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, Fear, and Surprise (and also the derivatives of those).

This is a firm belief of mine – that my God is that Omnipath. The being that is closest to our heart’s crevasses. Not our parents. Not our friends. Not our spouse. Not our colleagues. But God alone. Whenever we feel down like our soul is falling apart, He can feel as if He’s ourselves. Whenever we are elated with boundless joy due to a cherished experience, be it victory or love, He can feel the excitement as well. It can perhaps be conjectured that He is also able to feel the emotion on an unprecedented scale, greater than the volumes of our heart. That is the kind of God whom I believe and worship.

It’s true that His existence can neither be proved nor be disproved. The whole concept of existence itself can scarcely contain His being. It’s whether you believe Him or not. It’s the final deal.

My concluding thought and remark, is that to have that Omnipath around us, to know that we are never alone in what we feel or think, to know that everything will be vindicated in the end, even the smallest things we feel or think or do, is one of the reasons why I chose to believe in Him.

The LORD is my Shepherd. I shall not want.

 

Book Bites – Brothers Karamazov I

Greetings!!

This is my first post with title “Book Bites” where I take sections or quotes from books I read which I think to be worthy of posterity. Sections which contains some wisdom of life or some truth of this world. Food for thought, you know.

I happen to read Brothers Karamazov recently and to be honest, I am deeply in love with it!! I really like the way by which Dostoevsky weave a great narration of human nature through characters which are very original. And he managed to do it through the lens of Russia which as I saw, (in this work and other works) is a very bleak and cold environment. It is certainly is not a good picture of what a good society should be. And yet, through that bleak landscape, many good literatures concerning humanity at its best is told in a very honest and touching way. Name the authors: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gorky, Pushkin, Turgenev, Gogol, etc. They managed to put a foothold on this world’s literature. Such an accomplishments which perhaps can only be attained by Russians – lending to their unique background.

Anyway, back to the story. I haven’t completed the book – it is voluminous and each chapter really requires a great deal of afterthought in order to extract full meaning from it. But nonetheless I enjoy reading it.

One of the characters which enthralls me is one named Elder Zosima. He is an old monk who happens to live in a nearby monastery where the protagonist, Alyosha spend most of his novice training. Elder Zosima is Alyosha’s mentor and a lot of exchanges between those two seems to be the author’s main message. Elder Zosima embodies that Christian character which people championed in many books but fails to show it in a complete character. He has that godly love, prophetic portents, patience, apostolic offices (particularly the healing), and the like. He is simply a character you can never forget – both from his deeds and his tenets.

In this post, I want to quote some of his teachings which in my opinion really contains some divine universal truth everybody can live with. So I think I should share it. Here are his words:

Above all, avoid lying, especially lying to yourself. Keep watching out for your lies, watch for them every hour, every minute. Also avoid disgust, both for others and for yourself: whatever strikes you as disgusting within yourself is cleansed by the mere fact that you notice it. Avoid fear too, although fear is really only a consequence of lies. Never be afraid of your petty selfishness when you try to achieve love, and don’t be too alarmed if you act badly on occasion. I’m sorry I cannot tell you anything more reassuring. A true act of love, unlike imaginary love, is hard and forbidding. Imaginary love yearns for an immediate heroic act that is achieved quickly and seen by everyone. People may actually reach a point where they are willing to sacrifice their lives, as long as the ordeal doesn’t last too long, is quickly over—just like on the stage, with the public watching and admiring. A true act of love, on the other hand, requires hard work and patience, and, for some, it is a whole way of life. But I predict that at the very moment when you see despairingly that, despite all your efforts, you have not only failed to come closer to your goal but, indeed, seem even farther from it than ever—at that very moment, you will have achieved your goal and will recognize the miraculous power of our Lord, who has always loved you and has secretly guided you all along.

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov, Book 2 Chapter 4.

I need to underline when he said about lying. It really is true. People do lie and when they lie, it’s they themselves whom they lie with the most, not others. Posterity at the expense of identity

I also need to underline when he said about acts of love. He said that most people only dream about instantaneous, Imaginary Love which usually involve sacrificial and heroic acts. Those are good indeed and none should mock it. But those acts are usually impelled by moments. It’s just not as concrete as True Love.

True Love, as I see it reigns more on truthful and patient performance of good deeds over large duration of time. It is persevering. It doesn’t take much posterity. It is there even in the minor actions seen by few (or perhaps even none). It is more of a way of life. It gives you a peace by which no other things in the world can give. It builds up joy which can be shared by all. This love also inherently more selfless – even to the point of death. You can see this kind of love from your parents who consistently love you since your birth, whom you at that time does not even know what love is – only self. You can never repay them.

In a tantamount way, that True Love is even further exemplified in divine perfection from the love of our God. He died for you on that cruel cross. Even when at that time, all you’re after is only yourself. What can be more than that? He loves you even before your birth!! After things in this world pass away His love will still be extant. By now He’s patiently knocking in the door of your heart. Read I Corinthians 13.

I hope that helps you to live more within consistent True  Love regardless of your creed. Love is universal.

So that was what I mean by book bites. Since I am still reading this great book – stay tuned for more book bites!!!

Sapere Aude!!

Imperfection and Beauty

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen, Anthem

That opening quote is from a (recently deceased) legendary singer-songwriter-artist-poet-novelist Leonard Cohen from Canada. He passed away on 7 November 2016. This artist deserves its place as one of the centennial persons of the 20th century.

Everything has cracks. There’s no such thing as perfect in this world. There’s always defects when we look for it. Everything in this world is transitory – worn by time.

If for instance, we see a wall blocking the sun, it is through those cracks that the light burst through and illuminate us. It is through imperfections that we learn to appreciate beauty in every form of existence, living or not. Beauty need limitations for it to be manifested.

In saying this, I do not mean that we shouldn’t strive for perfection. We should always try our best. It’s about pushing our boundaries to new heights! Just always note that we humans are finite beings. There’s always limitations here and there. That is our solace.

Also, when we see something imperfect; God wants us not to judge but to perceive deeper, perceiving aspects of beauty hidden under those imperfections.

Grace exist only within the scope of failures.

Sapere Aude!

The Self-Deception of Faith

Faith means that you put complete trust in somebody or someone. This is very much applicable in religion, where you put your faith to God you’re worshiping.

There are set of things to do which will demonstrate your faith to any particular religion. Since I’m a Christian, these would be my share of examples of those chores within my religion(in no particular order) :

  • Having daily Quiet Time
  • Reading and Doing Bible Regularly
  • Being baptized
  • Born-Again
  • Attend weekly Sunday Service
  • Attend prayer meetings
  • Pay tithes regularly
  • Being a member in a local church
  • Serving in a community, be it as a church member or in any social context
  • Attend gospel rally or revivals
  • Celebrate particular religious time, such as Christmas, Easter, Lent or any Saint’s Feasts
  • etc.

Of course, every denomination varies in their practices and the list above is by no means exhaustive. You can add or subtract items in the list above. Certainly, if you are from different creed you will have another item. But my point is that every religion has their share of rituals or things to be crossed-off. You might not have to do all those things, but if you really ignore it, do you really experience the religion?

If you try to put those things in language of logic, those chores would be your Premises and the Conclusion would be that you are a Christian/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu/(nameyourreligionhere)

But if you try to think a bit more critical, do you think that by doing those things will certify that you are a true believer of a particular religion? It might be so, but that also means that it might not be so, right? Nobody knows for sure.

There’s just a fine line between faith and self-deception. A person might flawlessly finish all his/her to-do-list within a religion, and that will show to others that they’re a true adherent of their believer. The person might believe so, too. But, does that make the person a true believer in God’s eye?

It’s like two sides of a coin. He/she might deceive himself, thinking that he/she is a true believer, but can still focus on the religion without par, which won’t make the person a hypocrite. He/she can be an earnest believer too who does not deceive himself and does all the chore gladly, with the same fruits like the one who is deceiving himself/herself. Maybe there’s no such thing as the duality of Faith/Works. If you don’t have one, it can be said that you don’t have the other one too.

All in all, nobody knows for sure. Thankfully, God knows our heart better than ourselves. Our faith does not depend on how well we know ourselves, but on how much God had revealed Himself to us. There’s no use for us mingling too much with our doubt. Trust God. The time will come when He reveals it to us whether our faith is fake or not. Until then, practice your faith fervently. You don’t know how the seeds you’ve sown and shown will influence others.

Sapere Aude!