I recently made an off-handed comment about a conservative evangelical in a public setting. A short while later I received an email from a colleague at another institution, noting the inaccuracy of my statement. His email was the result of an email from a colleague at a third institution, “sharing” my comment with him. While the email I received was essentially kind and considerate, the initial email noted that I was either ignorant or lacked integrity. Ouch – that hurt.
At this point, pride rose. Pride is the queen of the vices, at least the queen of my vices. So I responded (internally, since I’m not generally eager to put my sin nature on display). Response #1 was definition, “I’m a nice guy. Why criticize me?” Then my theology got in the way. My anthropology and view of sanctification assured me that I’ve not quite arrived yet. It took a while – maybe all of 15 minutes – to set my pride aside.
Pride was not so willing to be set aside, however. Response #2 was deflection. Colleague #2 should have contacted me before “sharing” his opinion with Colleague #1, the one who had enough character to contact me. People today have the ability to quickly spread their opinions with a multitude of people, but where is the Christian character in that? Why don’t people get their facts straight before they send their opinion to the world? Pride clearly demonstrated that I was justified – ok, self-justified – but it really felt good for a while! Colleague #2 is actually the problem, not me. His motive was wrong; he was living by the flesh, not by the Spirit. A spiritual person would have contacted me before spreading the juicy gossip. This point of pride took longer to get over (almost an hour!), because my opinion had at least some merit. As I pushed pride back, however, I had to (reluctantly, I’m sorry to say) acknowledge that his problem does not resolve mine. I was the one who made the original comment. I still had to deal with that and I was getting ready to do so.
Pride was not done. Response #3 was defensive. “Well, he can’t be right! I know what I’m talking about.” This was the most difficult to deal with. My original comment was not germane to the discussion; it was just off-handed. It did not make or break the argument. But the comment was made, and I had to decide if the critique was accurate or not. This required some research, time out of my schedule. That made me mad. Pride rose in its strength.
Response #4, a refusal to doubt, was connected to #3. Pride argued against the possibility of being wrong. “I couldn’t be wrong, could I?” This was hard to set aside. My life has revolved around study and learning. I relish seeing the lights come on in my students. I routinely teach the dangers of being dogmatic where Scripture is not – and the danger of uncertainty when Scripture is clear. It’s always easier to teach than to learn, and now I had to pay attention to my own lessons. How certain was I of my conclusions? Could I be wrong? The more I read, the more I struggled with pride because I was discovering that I was wrong. Oh, there was an element of truth in my conclusion and there was sufficient material to defend my position, I had to be honest (at least with myself for the time being) and acknowledge (at least to myself, if not to anyone else) that my original comment had been too broad, too encompassing. The more I read, the more I realized, I had misrepresented the individual. There was a wrong that needed to be righted, but pride was alive and strong.
Response #5 from my pride was a “novel idea”! Let’s just ignore this. There’s so much internet traffic, so many juicy emails, so much revelation of problems far bigger than this, that it will just go away. And that’s true! People who spend their lives on the blogs and the social media do seem to have such short attention spans. But this was not comforting. Pride and humility were in full blown battle, because at this point I knew I had to acknowledge my error, but it was more now than just a mistake in judgment. My responses, unknown to anyone (at least until now), had been far more serious than the original error.
I came to the logical and spiritual conclusion. I shall apologize. Pride was bloodied and beaten down by this time, but it was not done.
This prompted Response #6. This will be too difficult. This individual lives behind an army of staff members. How do you even offer an apology? Pride argued that it would be too hard to accomplish my goal, that a letter or email or phone call would be intercepted by an underling and discarded as just one of many unimportant contacts, so why bother? You know you did wrong, but there’s not really a way to fix the problem. But pride was in error again, and so the apology was made.
Pride and humility battled over a minor issue in my life. But pride and humility battle over many issues in my life. It’s a battle I struggle to win. When I think I am victorious, pride rises in its strength. When I submit in humility to my Lord, he gives victory over pride and a host of other sins.
The original form of this missive included a list of Scripture verses for each point. There were plenty. But in reviewing, I concluded that I was trying to use Scripture to defend my experience (was pride making a comeback?) – a really bad way to deal with the text. And now I sit here trying to decide, is even putting this forth an exercise in pride or humility? Please take it in the spirit it is given.