Pride Has Us Do Good For The Wrong Reasons

Pride Has Us Do Good For The Wrong Reasons June 4, 2024

Frans Vandewalle: The Sin Of Pride / flickr

Sometimes we embrace pride thinking it cannot be a serious problem, when it develops or encourages us to do  because it encourages us to do various good things with our time. How can it be so bad? Pride, and with it, vainglory, often have us do good things in order to make it look like they are not really sinful dispositions. We might, for example, help the poor, and in  doing so, think we prove ourselves better than others and worthy of the accolades we receive. Certainly, we have done good, and that is not the problem; they problem is found in our intention behind our actions, for it is those intentions which can have us also embrace all kinds of evil ideas which will make sure we do not follow the good to its proper and just end.

Spiritually, religiously, pride has us become so self-centered, we are unwilling to be corrected by others; it encourages us to think of ourselves as the only guide we need. While we might be willing to listen to others, we do so only if what they say reinforces what we already believe and want to hear. If they don’t, they risk our wrath, and if we find them too much a challenge, we will do whatever we can to take them down. Sadly, we have seen this happen many times in Christian history, especially in the midst of intense doctrinal debates, where people on both sides show forth their pride and inability to listen to each other, leading to some of the worst behavior possible for those who are supposedly followers of Jesus, the prince of peace.  Those involved in the debates will often be very learned, they will have studied the Christian tradition, but they will be selective in their use of tradition, using what they can to prove their point while ignoring anything which they find difficult to reconcile with their beliefs. We can see this happening during the early Christological controversies, when those who authentically held on to a heresy (instead of being merely misunderstood) would take one traditional aspect of how the church identified who Jesus is, either his humanity or his divinity, and absolutize it, so that they end up denying the other aspect of who he is. Thus, those who ignored his divinity would point to all the discussion had about his humanity in Scripture and in tradition, while those who denied his humanity, would do likewise in relation to his divinity. When confronted with such a mistake, those who were not prideful would take into consideration what others have to say, and in that way, they developed their understanding of Christ, even as the church as a whole did so, finding it had to affirm three  points: the integral unity (or oneness) of the person, and the reality of his divinity and of his humanity. Those who were prideful, despite their great learning, and contributions which they have given thanks to that learning, doubled down on their mistakes, and ended up denouncing everyone who did not come to the exact same conclusions as they did, and as a result, they found themselves to be the one in the spiritual dead end (and if they denounced others as heretics, using anathemas to do so, they found those anathemas coming back upon themselves). Such a historical reality explains why it could be said, “Just as pride, if it raises us to heaven, is brought down to hell, so humility, if it descend to hell, then will it be exalted to heaven.”[1]

Humility allows us to accept criticism, so that however bad a situation we find ourselves in, we will be able to take the help and advice which is being offered us and use it for our own benefit. This is not to say everything anyone else would have to say will be correct, but, if we are humble, we will not immediately believe they are wrong just because what they say goes against what we think or desire. Pride never allows us to do this. It always has us double down when confronted, which of course, is true, not just in relation to theological speculations, but with life in general. Pride has us become stubborn when we should not be. We need to be able to listen to others and learn from them. We need to accept that we do not know everything, that we cannot do everything ourselves, and so, that we need each other.

The Christian faith teaches us to be humble, not because we are to despise ourselves so that we are unable to see the good which we have, but to make sure we do not use that good and abuse it, and through such abuse, turn it into a source of evil. It teaches us to be humble for that is the way we can learn to love and be loved. Love requires us not to be so self-centered and selfish, for when we are so self-absorbed, we will not be able to love others.

When we become a Christian, either as an infant, or some other point later in our life, we should be shown the way of love. That way, throughout our lives, not only will we continue in and with the graces we were given, we will be able to grow further and further in grace, so that at the end of our lives, we can complete our lives with love and fulfill what it is we started when we received  God’s love and grace. “And elder said: ‘What is the point of beginning a task if one does not learn how to complete it? For that which is begun but not completed is nothing.’”[2] If, at some point during our life, we become self-absorbed, thinking we have come to the end of our potential spiritual development when we have not, we risk not only fulfilling our potential, but also losing all that we have gained up to that point.  When we see that happening, we should see it is due to pride, and so struggle to cast it off; that way, we will then be able to continue our spiritual journey properly and make sure we end our lives filled with love.

Pride comes before a fall. It can and will prevent us from continuing our spiritual journey to its proper end so long as we hold onto it. It is not easy to cast it off, especially because we often do so with the wrong way, with a false humility which ends up having us embrace pride disguised as humility. The key is to engage the way of love. The more we do that, the easier we will find it to overcome our pride without our humility turning false, and then, if we follow that path to the end, we will certainly find God helping us, making sure we complete our life in grace.


[1] More Sayings of the Desert Fathers. An English Translation And Notes. Ed. John Wortley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019; repr. 2023),  46 [“Sayings Preserved in Latin”: L31].

[2] More Sayings of the Desert Fathers,  61 [“Sayings Preserved in Latin”: L72].

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