Apprehending True Humility

The word humility has two definitions. One is to be avoided at all costs, and the other is to be diligently sought.

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A Description of Authentic Humility

Humility is a concept that is not well understood by most people. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the Christian concept of humility, I’ve compiled the following descriptions of its hallmark qualities.

  • Humility is the state of being emotionally aware of your needs and weaknesses and how you depend on God and others on a moment by moment basis.
  • Humility allows one to open their heart and experience love and grace.
  • Humility allows one to become introspective, and examine one’s own heart and motives.
  • The experience of falling in love is all about humility. One’s desire and affection for the other person becomes a need that the other person fulfills. One then finds himself doing all kinds of introspection, leading to personal changes, all to try to fit into this relationship better.
  • If a person has humility, he/she would be more loving, forgiving, merciful and compassionate. A humble person asks him/herself, “What did I do wrong? What’s my problem? What’s wrong with me? What more can I do? How can I fit into this relationship better?”
  • Humility makes one more emotionally expressive of one’s needs to others. As a result, one is more emotionally connected to people.
  • Being in a state of humility, and being more emotionally connected to others, can make one feel more vulnerable to temptation and deceit, and more likely to succumb to it.
  • Humility is a key ingredient in obtaining discernment, which is a safeguard against temptation and deceit.
  • Humility requires and facilitates Heart Trust.
  • Humility is usually taken as a mark of honor.
  • Only the humble can know God.

One important aspect of humility is that it cannot occur simultaneously with self-centered pride, which has the following characteristics.

  • Pride, and it’s sister, arrogance, repeals trust, and this has the effect of cutting a person off from making authentic connections with God and others.
  • Pride may lead a person to believe that others are wrong, or that God is treating them harshly.
  • If a person is proud and lacking humility, then he/she is prone to be less patient, more prone to anger, and more easily irritated.
  • When a proud person who does not have a sense of humility is offended, he/she lashes out with anger and becomes bitter if the offense is not quickly rectified.
  • Excessive pride is usually a cover for shame.
Vermeer - girl with a pearl earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer, ca. 1665.

A False Concept of Humility

The first part of this essay described Humility as a spiritual posture that facilitates one’s connection with God and others, according to the Christian understanding of the word. But the secular understanding of the concept focuses on, and magnifies the dichotomy between pride and humility, while neglecting the overall sentient nature and purpose of true humility, absent of pride.

Within this vain, one noteworthy aspect of pride is that it is usually adopted by a person as a covering for shame. In this case, when such a person’s pride is abased, then their shame is exposed. Since a large number of people have this skewed perspective, the common perception of humility is based on the abjection of pride and is therefore associated with shame. As a result, the concept of humility within this paradigm takes on the worldly connotation of being shamed.

As a token snapshot of this common but hollow understanding of humility, we find this blabber on Wikipedia.

Humility is the quality of being humble. Dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness. In a religious context humility can mean a recognition of self in relation to a deity (i.e. God) or deities, and self-debasement with subsequent submission to said deity as a member of that religion. Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as being “unselved”, a liberation from consciousness of self, a form of temperance that is neither having pride (or haughtiness) nor indulging in self-deprecation.

Humility is an outward expression of an appropriate inner, or self-regard, and is contrasted with humiliation which is an imposition, often external, of shame upon a person. Humility may be misappropriated as ability to suffer humiliation through self-denouncements which in itself remains focus on self rather than low self-focus.

Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue which centers on low self-preoccupation, or unwillingness to put oneself forward, so it is in many religious and philosophical traditions, it contrasts with narcissismhubris and other forms of pride and is an idealistic and rare intrinsic construct that has an extrinsic side.”

This common understanding of humility is a cheap red herring substitute for true spiritual humility. Like all other dialectics of worldly Gnosticism, it gives one the satiating sense of (supposedly) knowing what humility is, thereby instilling a false self-confidence and contentment, without giving one a clue as to the real thing.

Hence, Screwtape is glad that, through this deceptive definition containing meaningless chit chat, your wakeup call has been diverted and transformed into dozing.


Portrait of the Artist’s Father, by Marcel DuChamp, 1910.

Humility Correlates with the Sufferings and Sacrifices of Love

It is commonly known that “Love Hurts”. But if we have a proper understanding of humility as a prime component of “being in love”, and how that humility invites suffering and sacrifice, then we can begin to understand how and why Love must hurt.

In his post, Letter To Josh Harris (February 3, 2019), Blair Naso explains the relation between suffering, selflessness, and humility within the context of a healthy marriage. [Emphasis mine.]

“The purpose in marriage is not to have a great sex life. The purpose in marriage is to become a righteous person by learning how to suffer for the benefit of your spouse and children. That suffering (along with traditional, Biblical roles for husbands and wives) creates selflessness, because you are focused on what others need you to do and not on what you want, and that selflessness creates humility, and only the humble can know God. Saving sex for marriage facilitates the pair bonding that enables [humility and the experience of falling/being in love].”

Concerning this same topic, Stephanie had a really good post describing the pitfalls of pride and the value of humility, Things I Want My Daughter to Know: There’s Beauty in The Valley of Humiliation (February 26, 2019). I’ll cite her writings, and add some of my own commentary.

“The Valley of Humiliation in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, is an allegory to when we go through extremely difficult seasons of being humbled.  It can be from friends, but most likely the humbling or humiliation comes from people we call enemies.  It might not come from a person themselves at all, however, but simply be a time or season in your life when everything seems to be going terribly wrong, or you have no direction or can’t discern anymore from God which way is right to take.  Often it is a combination of all these things, which is what Pilgrim’s Progress describes, and is a season of affliction coupled with attacks meant to humiliate.  Whatever this Valley may look like at a certain time is not as important compared to the necessity of this being something you need to learn how to handle, and how to handle well.

Women greatly value the sentient experience of “being in love”, as do most men, but staying in love requires one to continue on in the posture of humility. This is not easy! Life itself, and especially marriage, serves as a trial to see whether you will continue on in the humility of love, or resort back to pride as a form of ego preservation and self-defense.

“May you be a lady of wisdom, who when she is rightfully humbled, realizes it and acknowledges it with grace.  And may you have the wisdom to see even the slightest bit of Truth in a severely harsh rebuke or criticism, and choose to treasure it, instead of despising the Truth.”

Hard to do, but much better than the other choice; choosing to take things personally and clinging to an offended ego is the wide path to destruction.

Ted Seth Jacobs - Rahab

Rahab, by Ted Seth Jacobs, ca. 1958.

“I can tell you assuredly though, accepting humiliation with a graceful and humble attitude reveals a beauty in a person like nothing one usually sees in this world.  It is very rare, because I believe this is the attitude that most models Christ.  Everything in our world today tells you not to accept going through this Valley.  That you will look foolish.  But the world’s “wisdom,” is not God’s wisdom, and it is foolish to seek to avoid these times of humbling.”

It is indeed foolish, because willingly resorting to pride, and refusing to follow through in faith and humility will doubtless erode one’s sense of discernment. Without discernment, one is unable to respond to a circumstance in an appropriate and purposefully effective way. Consequently, one is relegated to be either a foolish laughingstock of a believer, or else, condemned to a mediocre existence of fellowship among the wicked. That is spiritual foolishness! (Compare this to the foolishness of this world, which has much value in the eyes of God.)

“And something you need to understand is that everyone eventually goes through a valley, or several valleys of being humbled or humiliated in all kinds of ways.  No single person is allowed to avoid this pain, and it is something all of us must learn to “deal,” with in wise and graceful ways.”

God’s love will catch you, sooner or later. If He doesn’t, that would be the greatest tragedy possible in all of life.

You can’t run away from a season of being humbled or humiliated, that only seals your fate as someone not strong enough to bear the name of Christ It is designed this way to test your faith, to see if you’re strong enough to hold steadfast to your anchor in the storms of life.”

The test of faith – will you choose humility, love, and life? Or will you wallow in pride, anger, bitterness, and alienation?

“Pilgrim’s Progress points out that you don’t have armor for your back.  This means that if you flee in terror, or run away, not trusting in God’s strength to pull you through (and perfect your character through humiliation), you will be attacked from behind as you are fleeing!”

Satan is eagerly waiting for you to give up and run back into his oily smooth, scaly arms, where he will whip you mercilessly with shame and regret, and lick up your tears with heartless compassion. He will then point out how God is a sinister joker, and warn you never to seek Jesus or… heh heh… twoo wuv again.

boris vallejo demon lover

Demon Lover, by Boris Vallejo, 1979.

Why do people usually respond wrong when going through the Valley of Humiliation?

“In one word, it is their pride.  Pride and arrogance are what keeps us from seeing our own flaws, or from wanting to acknowledge our own blind spots or mistakes, especially when someone has pointed them out.  Doubly so if it is someone we despise.  And even more so than that, if it is done in public, meant to humiliate us.  But none of that takes away the true value of humiliation.”

Basically, pride is not wanting to ask for what you need, or not being willing to express your need, because you don’t want to depend on others, or have others depend on you. In essence, you don’t want to love and be loved by others, and you are rejecting the opportunity to find love.

“For one, [humility] serves to rid us of our pride or pretenses, if we allow it to, by acknowledging that we really aren’t perfect and may even need to go through this valley at this time.  If we repent of our pride, we are given grace to endure the season, and hope for what lies ahead (a better character for one thing).  But when we respond in pride toward our humbling, we don’t glean the benefits or blessings of learning humility, and our character is left with a glaring defect.  Remember: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  It is also foolish to honor an arrogant person, Paul tells us to give honor to those who deserve it because of their service and humility.

“So many harmful things come from pride, because it allows us to keep moving in the wrong direction and often toward danger.  Unnecessary hardships, shipwrecking of one’s faith or the faith of others, and even important relationships can be destroyed when someone refuses to be humbled or accept rebuke and correction (be humiliated to a lesser or greater extent).  When we go through this Valley of Humiliation, we have God’s favor on our life if we keep a humble heart.”

“Although a person’s pride may make them seem strong, their strength is in their folly, which is why the Bible constantly warns against arrogance and pride, boasting of one’s sins they’ve gotten away with, or having a Pharisaical attitude and legalism.  It is a mysterious thing that the last will become first, that the humble will receive honor (and the arrogant, dishonor), but this is the way of our Lord.  It takes Strength and Humility to accept rebuke or harsh criticism, to take it in stride, learning how to correct our character for the better, and not holding on to bitterness or resentment.  Resisting this Valley is only human and natural, but nothing could be further from our benefit.”

“Often the truly strong are the humbled people, and those who are acutely aware of their own failings and shortcomings in the flesh.”


About Jack

Jack is a world traveling artist, skilled in trading ideas and information, none of which are considered too holy, too nerdy, nor too profane to hijack and twist into useful fashion. Sigma Frame Mindsets and methods for building and maintaining a masculine Frame
This entry was posted in Authenticity, Discernment, Wisdom, Enduring Suffering, Love, Maturity, Personal Growth and Development, Models of Success, Personal Presentation, Self-Concept, Sphere of Influence, The Power of God and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Apprehending True Humility

  1. blairnaso says:

    I think it’s important, though somewhat impossible to define virtues. Or at least, to define what virtues are not.

    Rick Warren said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”


    • Jack says:

      Blair, you’re right. Reading this post is not going to make any one more humble or more virtuous. But it may help one understand how one (or someone else) is not humble, and how that might be affecting their lives.

      I wrote this post to build some foundational premises for a couple more I’ll post in the future.


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  15. Jeff Barnes says:

    Terrific article imo. I had the wisdom of Jordan Peterson to guide me through my Valley of Humiliation. I find humility to be the most striking and evident virtue of Jesus. My parents being narcissistic have unbelievable amounts of pride and lack humility, this has lead me to despise pride and earnestly desire humility. I agree that humility is commonly misunderstood, and that we don’t enter deeper into it by philosophical speculations.

    Liked by 1 person

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