Letter from the Vicar (November 2011)
You know in the Bible there’s that story about how Adam was chucked out of the Garden of Eden? Well after he left he got a bit fed up that he didn’t often run into God. Frankly he felt a bit unloved. So one day when he did get a chance to speak to God he told him how he was feeling.
God said, “No problem, I’ll make you a companion who’ll love you however mean and unpleasant you are, and so that it’ll remind you of me I’ll give it a name similar to mine.” So God created DOG and, just as he said, dog loved Adam and always wagged his tail no matter how bad he was. After a while Adam was visited by an angel and he reported back to God. “Lord,” he said, “Adam has become filled with pride. He struts and preens like a peacock and is really up himself. Dog has indeed taught him that he is loved, but no one has taught him humility.” God said, “No problem! I will create for him a companion who will see him as he really is. The companion will remind him of his limitations and will teach him humility.” And God created CAT to be a companion to Adam. And Cat would not obey Adam. And when Adam gazed into Cat’s eyes, he was reminded that he was not the supreme being. And Adam learned humility. And God was pleased. And Adam was greatly improved. And Cat did not care one way or the other!!!
Humility is not exactly a popular virtue these days. The spirit of our age is to thrust yourself forward, to assert yourself and join the quest for celebrity status. Programmes on the TV like the X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent or Big Brother encourage these kinds of attitudes. I sometimes ask children what they want to do when they grow up.
A large number say they want to be a Premier League footballer or a rock or film star. There’s nothing wrong with having ambitions, but we need to remember that there is value in doing much more ordinary kinds of work. But, of course, humility is not just about work. It’s about having an attitude towards life and towards other people which doesn’t place ‘me’ at the centre of the universe. My mother used wisely to say to me, “the world doesn’t revolve around you, you know.” She was quite right, of course. We all rely on each other and we need to remember that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves. I think it helps sometimes to think about the world or even the universe, to remember how unbelievably big it is, how old it is. When you think of that it does make you humble.
None of this is to say that we should be humble in the wrong kind of way. Humility is not about grovelling or fawning. No-one should make you feel small or insignificant. Some religion does that. Religion which makes you feel bad about yourself should be rejected. Everyone is of infinite worth and value and we mustn’t let anyone – including religious people – tell us otherwise. The Christian belief is that it is because life is a gift from God that it is so precious. That’s why we ask probing and sometimes awkward questions about the beginning and ending of life. Life isn’t just a commodity that can be made or disposed of. Every human being is made in God’s image. Each one of us has a bit of God in us, and that’s true of every single human being in the world. Now that makes me humble. Humble before God, the God who created me and who loves me. But that kind of humility doesn’t make me feel small or insignificant. In fact the opposite. It makes me feel great