God’s Humility

God is humble.

It’s a truth too important to miss—yet many of us do. It’s important because our perception of God shapes how we relate to him. If we see him as proud our natural response is to be defensive—to view him as we view proud humans. Words like distaste and avoidance then come to mind. But when we see his humility we feel free to approach him and to enjoy him.

Let me make the case. But first let’s set a context. To acknowledge his humility is not to deny his greatness. He made all that exists. He sustains all that exists. He rules over all that is. And he is strong, wise, and greatly to be feared by those who hate him. None of that is in question here. What is in question is the quality of his character and his disposition toward us.

Satan, on the other hand, is God’s opposite on this score. Martin Luther, for instance, noted in his Table Talk that the Devil “is a proud spirit, and cannot endure scorn” (p. 262, DCX). And with that we can add that Satan—the spirit who now rules the unbelieving world—does all he can to reconfigure God through distortions. If God can be portrayed as utterly unattractive Satan’s deceits then gain traction. Yet, ironically, his portrayal of God as proud and self-absorbed actually matches his own broken nature.

So what do we mean in speaking of divine humility? Just this: God’s disposition is to care for others. He loves us, and the character of his love is to give himself to us freely and constantly. A proud being, by contrast, is self-concerned and lacks any reason to care for others. Those who are proud use others. The humble, by contrast, build up others.

The case for God’s humility can be made in three statements. God is Triune. God is love. And God sent his Son so that whoever believes in him can have eternal life. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

First, God is Triune: he exists eternally as the Father-Son-Spirit God. This truth unfolds throughout the Bible where we discover how our own need for community and communion comes from our creation in God’s image: “Let us make man in our image . . . in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

This remarkable basis for human existence points us back to God’s own nature. Adam and Eve were made as mutually committed partners—as lovers. Each had a role to play in sustaining human life. And before sin entered the world there is no trace of abuse or competition—Eve helped her husband fulfill his calling to care for the world. So, too, when Jesus entered the world as the visible “God” he came to make “God”—his unseen Father—known (John 1:18). It was his pleasure to elevate and obey the Father in all he did, yet without ever denying that he and the Father are equal. What we learn of proper humility is that God’s communion is giving rather than competitive.

This leads us to the second point, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8&16). John, in his letter to a broken church, made it clear that those who had abandoned the true believers did so with selfish ambitions in mind—as those defined by “the pride of life” (2:16) which “is not from the Father.” For John to say that God is love is to say that his communion is defined by mutual devotion, not by selfish ambition. This, in turn, shapes hearts that have Christ’s Spirit working in them, sharing God’s Triune disposition: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (3:16).

The third point, anticipated by the verse just cited, is that God’s humility is best seen at the cross. If we begin to grasp, even in a minimal way, how profoundly shameful and painful it was to be crucified in the first century we will better grasp the humility of God. In a nutshell God the Father asked God the Son to take on himself our evil, and to suffer what was properly ours: death and disgrace. The Father was displaying compassion, not pride, when he sent the Son to bear “the sins of many” and to make “intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

Paul, of course, used this example of God’s humility in Christ’s death as the ultimate guide for our own mutual relationships as followers of Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). Only then is Jesus “exalted” so that every knee will bow to him. His greatness is rooted in his compassionate self-giving.

What does God’s humility teach us, then? That God is truly ultimate—so much so that all will worship him, as Father, Son, and Spirit, for eternity to come—but the reality is that we’re also blessed to be members of his family, and any pride will be in him, not in ourselves.

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