Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:10, NRSV).
Monday, I wrote about righteousness and humility together, but I wanted to share a little more of what the late Quaker Thomas R. Kelly had to say about humility in his book, A Testament of Devotion.
Kelly spoke of humility as resting “upon a holy blindness, like the blindedness of him who looks steadily into the sun.” All of us have probably experienced the visual memory that occurs immediately after looking at a bright light, especially the sun. It is as if the light still shines in our vision even when we have looked away, and it can even make seeing other things difficult. When a person turns his or her eyes from sun to earth, Kelly said,
there he sees only the sun. The God-blinded soul sees naught of self, naught of personal degradation or of personal eminence, but only the Holy Will working impersonally through him, through others, as one objective Life and Power.
In seeing God, we see the valuelessness of much that we previously valued -- things and honor.
But what trinkets we have sought after in life, the pursuit of what petty trifles has wasted our years as we have ministered to the enhancement of our own little selves! And what needless anguishes we have suffered because our little selves were defeated, were not flattered, were not cozened and petted! But the blinding God blots out this self and gives humility and true selfhood as wholly full of Him. For as He gives obedience so He graciously gives to us what measure of humility we will accept. Even that is not our own, but His who also gives us obedience.
That notion, I think, helps us deal with the pride that oddly comes from false humility -- when we are proud for seeming humble. To see humility as a gift from God, like salvation itself, is to see it properly.
But the humility of the God-blinded soul endures only so long as we look steadily at the Sun. Growth in humility is a measure of our growth in the habit of the Godward-directed mind. And he only is near to God who is exceedingly humble. The last depths of holy and voluntary poverty are not in financial poverty, important as that is; they are in poverty of spirit, in meekness and lowliness of soul.
Kelly says humility rooted in God has an interesting result.
But there is something about deepest humility which makes men bold. For utter obedience is self-forgetful obedience. No longer do we hesitate and shuffle and apologize because, say we, we are weak, lowly creatures and the world is a pack of snarling wolves among whom we are sent as sheep by the Shepherd (Matt. 10:16). . . . Only the inner vision of God, only the God-blindedness of unreservedly dedicated souls, only the utterly humble ones can bow and break the raging pride of a power-mad world. But self-renunciation means God-possession, the being possessed by God. Out of utter humility and self-forgetfulness comes the thunder of the prophets, “Thus saith the Lord.” High station and low are leveled before Him. Be not fooled by the world’s power. . . . These are not cheap and hasty words. The high and noble adventures of faith can in our truest moments be seen as no adventures at all, but certainties. And if we live in complete humility in God we can smile in patient assurance as we work. Will you be wise enough and humble enough to be little fools of God? For who can finally stay His power? Who can resist His persuading love?
Kelly’s words should shake us, move us. One final quote:
Humility . . . rests upon the disclosure of the consummate wonder of God, upon finding that only God counts, that all our own self-originating intentions are works of straw. And so in lowly humility we must stick close to the Root and count our own powers as nothing except as they are enslaved in His power.
A prayer: God help us to be truly humble, trusting in your power and love, not our own ability and knowledge. Helps us to forget self and thunder with the prophets for You and against the sin of this world.
The Kelly quotes are from the 1941 edition of A Testament of Devotion (New York: Harper & Row, 1941), 62-65. A newer edition is available here.