24 May 2011

Humiliated and humbled: sadly, not synonyms

by Dan Phillips

Once there was a man with much to boast of; and boy, did he.

The man was builder/conqueror/despot Nebuchadnezzar. A dream, brought home by a genuine prophet, had warned him of the consequences of his arrogance and called him to humble himself before God (Dan. 4:2-27). Nebuchadnezzar shrugged off the prophet's pleas and doubled down (Dan. 4:28-33). The king was instantly humiliated by a word from Heaven, and spent seven periods of time (?; don't ask) living like an animal (Dan. 4:32-33), until he saw himself in true proportion to God (Dan. 4:34-36). Now Nebuchadnezzar wasn't so big, but God was.

In this case, Nebuchadnezzar was both (outwardly) humiliated, and (inwardly) humbled. That is, God undid him, and he received the message. It's actually a pretty happy story. Many believe ol' Nabu-kudurri-usur was saved through the encounter. Possible. Only God knows.

Too many of the similar stories I know, first-hand and second-, do not yet have such happy endings.

I know of a number of folks who have been massively and/or repeatedly humiliated, but never humbled. I could name politicians past and present, preachers past and present, religious bodies past and present, and individuals past or present. I could name a name leading the news recently. Some of these folks I've never met; some I knew (or thought I knew) as well as I will ever know anyone who isn't me.

In each case, the natural process of following (sinful) choice A led to (foolish) choice B, which then led to disaster. Anyone with two functional neurons to fire in sequence, observing the situation, could make the connection: A led to B; A is the root-problem. Humble yourself. "Own," then disown A.

But, see, children, here's a crucial axiom of fallen humanity. It should probably be added to the 25 Things I've Learned (which seem more timely than ever)... though that would mess up the title. But here it is:
Everyone caught in a sin will either repent, or double down
Sin snowballs.

There's only one way to be rid of a sin, and that way lies through repentance. Repentance is the way of humility. Repentance loves God, so it hates the sin. Repentance sees God as big, so it sees the sin as despicable. Repentance admits culpability, because it craves forgiveness — and only guilty people can be forgiven. Hence the need for "owning" — for confession — and for "disowning" through repentance.

By contrast, refusal to be rid of the sin inexorably takes one in the other direction. All defenses go up, and all assailants must be repulsed. Rationalization, blame-shifting, evasion, equivocation, lies, excuses... all these and many other baleful tools lie in the arsenal of the unrepentant.

Solomon's words, however, stand as true today as they were when first spoken and written:
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy
(Proverbs 28:13)
...and its companion warning:
One who becomes stiff-necked, after many reprimands
will be shattered instantly— beyond recovery
(Proverbs 29:1 CSB)
The lesson to us is clear: we should humble ourselves, lest we be humiliated. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you," Peter admonishes (1 Pet. 5:6).

Refuse to do so, and we will learn Nebuchadnezzar's lesson: that "those who walk in pride he is able to humble" (Dan. 4:37).

The fall back lesson is no less clear: if it comes to humiliation, take the message to heart. Don't be the last to know. Don't wait until the two saddest words in the English language become your epitaph:

"Too late"

UPDATE: see also this.

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

Hm; now that I've posted it, I realize that this could have been an open letter, were I a better writer.

Pam said...

"only guilty people can be forgiven" ah, what comfort to be reminded than only sinners can be saved. God's grace is so comforting. Thanks.

michellemabell said...

Thanks for a great and encouraging post. I have been greatly encourged of late by Manasseh's story in 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.
It's people like this, when I read about them, give me hope for sinners like myself.
Such a beautiful thought and realization that when God calls on us to repent, He is already prepared to forgive us when we do! He is a God like no other.

Solameanie said...

Very edifying.

Robert said...

"The rest of mankind, who were not killed by the plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immoralities nor of their thefts." (Revelation 9:20-21)

Even after much of mankind is wiped out through the seal judgments and six trumpet judgments, they are unrepentant. That is what I call doubling down. And the Bible calls it folly.

Scooter said...

I for one think you should add it to your list of 25 Things. There is no 3rd way; if there is I'm not seeing it.

Interesting how humility has one path (repentance), while "doubling down" takes many forms. Like our common salvation.

Good word Dan. This post is timely for me.

donsands said...

Excellent lesson. Well done, and well written.

May our Lord who was Baptized by John the Baptist, who baptized sinners unto repentance, and though He needn't be baptized, did this for us. For our repentance needs repentance, and yet, God accepts our repentance in His grace, and because of Christ's work on our behalf.

bereanboarder said...

"... I have often observed, how incongruous and irrational the common temper of mankind is... that they are not ashamed to sin, and yet are ashamed to repent; not ashamed of the action
for which they ought justly to be esteemed fools, but are ashamed of the returning, which only can make them be esteemed wise men.

- Robinson Crusoe

DJP said...

Very apropos; thanks.

Ron R. said...

D, I have left two churches in the last 4 years, after being at the same church for 19 years... So don't label me as a "church jumper", but your point of being humiliated, but not humbled, is exactly why I left those two churches. I TRULY appreciate your message today. Leaving a church is a terrible thing. It's even worse when one has to leave for Biblical reasons. Devastating, sometimes. But, God is always God, and for that I am thankful. Thanks to the Pyro's for all they do.