Saturday, March 15, 2014

The humility of God - part 1

I have often wondered what it means to worship God.

Somewhere in the primitive recesses of my mind resides an image of God as a mighty king on a throne with everyone bowing down before Him. And, implied in that, is the notion that God expects, even demands, that we humans worship Him and only Him in this manner.

This might give the impression that God is all about Himself - about being the center of attention, the object of adoration. That God values His power over us and our subservience to Him.

Yet it is my belief that this could not be further from the Truth.

While certainly there are elements of truth in this imagery, there is something about it that could easily lead us terribly astray.

That "something" is that our imagery can only be based on human kings and thrones, human expectations and demands. Our imaginations cannot grasp the nature of God and we often end up with gross caricatures when we try to portray Him in any fashion fathomable to the human mind.

Some months ago, I was reading a small book of writings by St. Isaac of Nineveh and came across the phrase "humility of God". I was taken aback. My primitive image of God was certainly not one of humility. Already there had been rumblings in my soul challenging the primitive image, but I did not trust them and was concerned that something might be wrong with my faith.

(And, of course, there was something wrong with my faith. There always is. But God keeps working on that - so long as I ask Him to.)

With a bit of reflection, it is not so hard to see the humility of Jesus. He never used His "power" for personal gain. Often when He healed people, He urged them to tell no one - an almost ridiculous request, when one considers that most blind, deaf, lame or leprous people of His time would be well known as such and a sudden disappearance of such major ailments could hardly go unnoticed.

Christ sought to change the body, mind, heart and soul of each person He encountered - for their sake, not His own. Getting the crowds to admire Him was of no significance to Him. Was He tempted? The Gospel tells us that He was - and that He refuted the empty promises of the adversary.

But He did not stop there. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of His friends as though He were a servant. He even washed the feet of Judas, knowing that he was about to betray Him. He then allowed Himself to be arrested, beaten, spit upon and publicly ridiculed. He anticipated, then watched as His friends denied Him and walked away at His most terrifying hour.

He did not cry out in indignation at this - "how could you do this to Me, after all I've done for you?" He did not rage at them or weep for Himself. He  loved them and forgave them, even before they did what He knew they would do. We might imagine that this was easy for Him to do, being God, but the account of His time in the garden informs us that it was not. It was agony.

My heart tells me that this, indeed, is true humility. This is not the dictionary definition that suggests that to be humble is to have a low or modest opinion of oneself. Jesus did not suffer from low self esteem. His esteem for Himself had no significance - because His life was not centered on Himself. His heart was always centered on the Father, attending to His inner call to bring all people to repentance.

In today's language, Jesus was not "full of Himself". On the contrary, He "emptied Himself" (Philippians 2:7) and that self-emptying is the very essence of true humility, the humility of God. He did not simply empty Himself in becoming one of us, though the Incarnation represents a great self-giving by God. Once in human form, He emptied Himself of "self", so that there was no personal "ego" in His humanity to block the flow of Divine Love through Him to us.

But, one might ask, what about the Father? The One on the throne before whom all are bowing? Is He also "humble"? And the Spirit - the One we hardly know? How can God be God, the ground of all being - and still be humble? Is this possible?

In a day or two - or as God sees fit, I will continue this reflection on the Humility of God, repentance and what it means to worship. (With the foregone realization that, of myself, I know very little and am one of the least of His servants.)