I left you in a cliffhanger in the last post, so let’s finish out this idea (ok, so I pushed the border of today until it became tomorow…)!
I’m a Pretty Pretty Princess
l said last post that the full weight of boastfulness cannot be separated from today’s post, and that’s because what sits behind the insecurity that brings about boasting is deeper, wider, and more pervasive than simple bragging. Perhaps not in a way you would normally think, but then I’ve never been accused of thinking normally.
One thing I can say from a lifetime of watching Christians from the outside is that the church has really screwed up people’s frame of reference for themselves. Some churches have a very formal caste system: the pastor and staff are the ruling class and all others the grubby peasants. Some have a sorrowful focus: “We’re all worms! Please, God, forgive our wretched existence and the offensive stench of our vileness!” Some have a reigning piety: “We are blessed and highly favored princes and princesses of the Lord! Be not conformed to this world and let not the corruption of it touch us! We wait patiently for the second coming so we can escape this awful place!”
All of these impart a definite stamp on the congregation about not just who God is or who the church is, but who they, personally, are. Church has largely been made an island cut off from the rest of their lives and whether that place is one of wailing and gnashing of teeth or one of celebration and holiness it creates a dissonance of identity that breaks a person. To be bold about it: churches have largely created and cemented the dual-mindedness they preach against. Now this isn’t me being a young buck rebelling against establishment, though I certainly have no shortage of resistance to authority in me. People are people and we make mistakes, and as much forgiveness as I’ve said in my life has taught me to extend it without end. No, this is just me pointing out that there are things we need to be watchful of, things we need to put pointedly in our field of view occasionally to prevent ourselves going astray.
With that said let’s get back to the last quality of 1 Corinthians 13:4 before moving to verse 5…
God is not proud
If you’re being honest you instantly don’t believe this one. I know because I just typed it and rolled my eyes. But let’s examine some words and come back to it.
The word for proud used in the original Greek is rendered “puffed up” in the King James and it is the verb φυσιόω, physioo. Physioo is from the noun φύσις, physis, the word from which we have English words like “physics”, “physical”, or “physician”. Physis directly translates to “natural”, but it actually refers to all the summed qualities of nature and what is natural. The root word of physis is the verb φύω, phyo, which means “to spring forth”, “to be born”, “to beget”, or “to produce”. So it refers to things being birthed, and in fact the word originally meant “to blow” or “to puff” as in “to be created by the breath of the gods”. You can see then why we’d refer to the result of that verb as “natural”: it refers to things coming into being by natural processes (which for the Greeks mostly meant it came from the gods). Now, if you paid attention the word in Corinthians is a verb based on a noun that is based on a verb. There’s the action phyo, the noun referring to the result of the action, physis, and then a new verb, physioo, that denotes action of that noun. Huh?
To clear this up we have to look at another word, the noun φῦσα, phusa, which is also rooted in the verb phyo, but which refers to the breath itself. It is literally just a pluralization of phyo, so you could say it means “puff, puff”. It is commonly used to refer to breath and is also the name of a device we call a bellows. You know a bellows; it’s the little wind-generating device that looks like a crimped accordian that they always show blacksmiths using in, like, every medievil movie or TV show ever. You push the handles together and a large bladder between them is compressed and it creates a strong puff of air they use to cool metal. The act of that air blowing? Physioo. It does mean “puff up”, but it can also mean “to breathe strongly” or “to hiss”. The latter makes clear it’s a forceful act, and when referencing a person it means to blow them up to an unnatural state. So being proud is thinking too much of yourself or, more importantly, thinking yourself more than is in your nature.
You Didn’t Build That
The word “pride” in the Greek is τυφόω, typhoo, and it actually means “to blind with smoke”. So having pride means to blind yoursef to the truth while being proud is overestimating yourself. The English word “pride” started off as prut, and its story is the very story of the rise and fall of man. It comes from the Latin prodesse, which originally meant “something that came before”. Because something that comes before prepares you, the meaning evolved to “something useful”, (chresteuomai!). Over time it came to mean “something good” because if it’s useful it’s good. In the rise of knights the word became “something valorous” because if it was good it was honorable and valorous. When knight fell out of favor and the lower classes became restless the word branched to also be an epithet that referred to “something haughty”. Next thing you know we have our modern definition of being puffed up or blinded to your nature right in the same word that can reference a valid sense of self-value.
Pride is seen as evil in some contexts and good in others. That is immeasurably detrimental to humans because it creates the same duality I discussed earlier: it leaves you on unsure footing not knowing what’s good or bad. That was born of a desire to tear down, to mock, to divide. The ramification is hundreds of years of people trying not to think too much or too little of themselves and erring to the side of too little. It is that discomfort with self that drives boastfulness. If you aren’t secure in yourself your tendency is to inflate in front of others in an attempt to make your name mean something better than you think you are. You get stuck in a trap of fake self-esteem masking an absolute absense of it. You talk yourself up and tear down others trying to generate some small amount of value of self. I lived this cycle most of my life, so I know the game. It sucks and it hurts.
God is (still) not proud
Ok, so we now know the question is whether or not God is blind to His nature over overestimating His nature. For one, His nature is defined by His behavior so He really couldn’t overestimate it, but put that aside. David notes in Psalm 113:6 that the Lord humbles Himself to behold the things of the earth and of Heaven. This is echoed in Psalm 138:6 where it says that though the Lord is high he respects the low. But that’s other people talking about Him. In His words, in Isaiah 57:15, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit…”. It’s tough to argue someone could respect the humble while being a braggart, but not impossible, so let’s look to Jesus.
Jesus spent exactly zero words talking Himself up, and in fact spent a good deal of time talking Himself down and serving others. He washed other men’s feet for crying out loud. He says that His actions, His nature, are that of His Father. So unless we’re calling Christ a liar we’ve shown He isn’t puffed up. So why the innate rejection of that? Pain.
Focus on the Pain
We see the perfection and humility of God, the security in Himself and it makes our hearts hurt that we don’t have that. We used to. There was a time that man walked with God, when he helped name the creatures. And then the liar, the demon, came to steal that out from under us. He took our name from us. Or maybe, to put a fine point on it, he convinced us to give up our name. He did that by showing us a dead body, our body struck dead by God, and saying that it’ll happen unless we can be better, be bigger, do more. He turned our eyes down from God and onto ourselves. But God is the only frame of reference we have, so we got dizzy and lost ourselves in the obsession with self, with death.
We have got to stop that. We have got to take our eyes off the bad, the broken, the dead. We tell ourselves we need to meditate on the bad to fix it, but that’s crap. We need to focus on the good, the stable, the Life. That’s Jesus’ entire message: stop looking at the scab because if you don’t you’ll keep picking at it and it’ll get infected. God isn’t looking down on you in disgust; He is standing beside you cheering you on. The rest of us aren’t sitting around talking about how insufficient you are; we’re too busy trying to decide if you’re talking about how insufficient we are. Pride and bragging are the byproduct of neglecting God, of believing you can fake salvation until you make it. You can’t. That’s not a value judgement; regardless what Amazing Grace says you are not a wretch. You don’t need to fear showing Him who you are; He isn’t going to smite you for it.
Hold onto this for awhile. I’m going to come back to it. In the next few posts we’re going to veer a little and I think they will help drive this home later. Stick with me!