Persons of no particular religious belief as well as those who deny God or any transcendent dimension may live lives of service and virtue. They may demonstrate modest or great sacrifices on behalf of the common good and general human flourishing. There is no harm to Christian conviction in admitting this. The rejection of God, however, which the Bible has in view is of a much deeper and sinister character. It is a willful refusal of the fount of one’s own being, an obstinate refusal of life itself.
This is what we rightly fear, and not especially as we presume to see it in others, but rather, as it shows its demonic presence in our own hearts and lives. Just as the atheist may live by graces of which he or she is unaware, so a Christian, aware or unaware, may be housing demons and gods of death. These bracing words are addressed to the believing community, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Speaking through Jeremiah, the Lord asks, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?” (Jer. 2:5). Rulers, prophets, and people have “changed their glory for something that does not profit” (Jer. 2:11). “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). Without the living water of God, the source of all being, humans wither and die — the slow demise of the living dead. All is vanity and chasing after the wind.
And what happens to human thinking and feeling? The stranger becomes a threat and an enemy. Prisoners always deserve their suffering. Torture is an instrument of justice. Marriage and family are a household of conflict in which everyone is defiled and abused. Money is not only an economic instrument, but an object of love and obsessive longing. Without the life of one’s own being, which is also the Life of All Being, any sense of communion and compassion evaporate. At best, people learn to tolerate each other and live by corporate cease-fire. But this is a cold life of endless death, without warmth, and without love (Heb. 13).
Addressing the church at Ephesus, St. Paul writes, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). Perhaps nothing arms us so strongly as proper humility before Almighty God, the source of all life and love. God invites us to a heavenly banquet, but we do well to sit down at the lowest place, so that, as God wills, we may be invited higher, even, to heavenly places (Luke 14:10).
To be humble is to sense and know one’s need, the depths of which can only be reached by divine love and mercy. Humbled before God and open to God in Christ, we receive through the Holy Spirit “grace upon grace,” “the unsearchable riches of God,” “all the fullness of God” (John 1:16; Eph. 3:8, Eph. 3:19). In sending his Son, the Father holds nothing back. The gift of the Holy Spirit is our participation in the whole triune God. Thus, humbled before God, we have all the riches of God and may give voice to every creature under heaven in endless and boundless praise.
God is love. God is boundless, endless love, forever and ever, and to the ages of ages.
Look It Up: Ps. 81:1
Think About It: Humility is a gateway to joy and love.