C S Lewis: Spiritual Pride
Guest writer: Larry Burton
“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” C. S. Lewis
As a child, I heard these words far too often: “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.” So I didn’t. I never knew why this was such a dangerous thing, but I certainly did my best to remember I was dust and to dust I would return. That childhood admonition was about getting a big head, becoming egotistical and judgmental. It was certainly not about healthy self-esteem. Why then did St. Paul and 20th century author C.S. Lewis warn against pride? It is spiritual pride that is their concern?
As one who is in spiritual direction and who serves as a spiritual director, my encounters with spiritual pride are numerous, and personally far too frequent. Every time I think I am growing spiritually--through my own efforts—I get tripped up.
There is a wonderful story about a famous preacher who, one Sunday after a preaching a rousing homily before a capacity congregation, sat down to dinner and asked his wife, “Just how many truly great preachers there are in this country?” Without looking up from her roast beef and potatoes his wife responded, “One fewer than you think.”
When anyone, and certainly includes me, begins to think that our goodness and giftedness is our own doing, spiritual pride has entered the picture. I have no idea what St. Paul meant when he spoke of the thorn in his side, but for me it is the tendency to become judgmental and superior. Saving others from their wrong-headed thinking, their insufficient theology, and their wayward walk with Jesus, can become my week’s work. Thank goodness when I get tripped up and actually hear myself.
Not “thinking of myself more highly than I should,” is now, for me, a spiritual admonition, a warning, a caution. It is the thorn in my side which reminds me that it is by the grace of God that I am healed and made whole. And what a relief that is.