I mentioned a couple days ago that both St James and St Peter quote the text from Proverbs: “God resists [or opposes] the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I thought that perhaps I should reflect on that, for though this seems self-evident, there may be more to it than we see at first glance.
I’ve said before that this is one of the most chilling texts in Scripture, that is, if we are among the proud (and if you think you’re not, by that very fact you are). For what more terrible thing can there be than for God to resist you? But are we speaking here only of the ultimate separation of the proud from the presence of God, or is the issue more subtle?
I had a dream the other night, of which I remember nothing except that (oddly enough) I was writing a poem. All that survived the return trip to consciousness was this:
Some people live
And some people die
Beneath the indifferent sky.
I was somewhat dismayed to discover this rather dark and faithless expression lurking in the labyrinthine corridors of my unconscious mind. But it is merely an all-too-human response to the unseen mysteries of life. I profess faith in God and all that He has revealed, yet if left to my own passions I would demand proof of them. This is a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) form of pride. And God resists me in this. He is not going to prove anything to me, but is going to leave me free. I just read one author who said that the greatest act of human freedom is the act of faith. This is a rather complicated issue, but it should be at least fairly clear that the act of faith is, by definition, free, i.e., not forced by compelling evidence.
Many today who are champions of “freedom,” at the expense of moral and spiritual laws and obligations, actually make their choices under the strong compulsion of lust, greed, gluttony, self-interest and egoism. So they are hardly free. As for believers, there is much support for faith in our observations and experiences, but nothing like a mathematical proof. So to choose to believe is a free choice; we are not obliged to accept the claims of faith by sheer weight of evidence or by any internal or external compulsion.
The demand for proof is arrogant, and the Lord resists it. He resisted those who said to Him as He hung on the Cross: “Let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him.” He did not come down, for He resists the proud and insists that our faith be free and not coerced by overwhelming miracles. We tend to be like those who also said to Him: “What sign do you perform, that we may see and believe in you?” (John 6:30). The Lord resisted requests for signs as proof of his claims, when He knew that those who asked were of bad will, were among the proud. His response? “No sign shall be given…” (Mark 8:12).
On the other hand, the Lord gives grace to the humble. Now the humble ones are not the self-denigrating, the lugubrious, the timid, the weak, or the gullible. Rather the humble are those who simply live in the truth—about themselves, about others, about God—and so live in peace, in evangelical childlikeness, and can more easily recognize the signs of God’s presence that He does in fact give to those who demand nothing. In a text that I’ve heard hundreds of times (it is one of the common readings in Vespers for the feast days of monks), I just realized recently that “those who trust Him will understand truth…” (Wisdom 3:9). To humbly trust without demanding signs and proofs will open our hearts and minds to what God wishes to reveal to us. It increases our capacity for truth, because humility is the virtue that most easily receives it.
So don’t set yourself up for resistance from God. He wants to give, but not as a response to our arrogant demands. He will give on his terms, so we are to make our acts of faith and trust with the freedom of the children of God—for God gives grace to the humble.