An appropriate humility

Book of Job

Week 33 (August)

Just after Christmas every year the English-speaking Christian workers in Italy used to get together for a conference.

One year the special speaker was A.E. Wilder Smith, an English scientist who developed quite a Christian writing ministry. Some of his writings even circulated in hand-written form behind the Iron Curtain when atheistic communism ruled eastern Europe with a tight fist.

One of Smith's themes in the conference in a hotel on the banks of the Arno river in Florence was that we human beings need to recapture a sense of reverential awe before God. In lectures which to me almost had science fiction overtones, Smith challenged us to come down off our lofty pedestals of self complacent dignity.

In one session, for instance, Dr. Smith pointed out that humans are limited to life in three dimensions. That's not true at all of God. He exists and acts in as many dimensions as there may be: four or a dozen! He has no limitations.

It was a real mind-expanding series of meetings heavily saturated with physics, biology and mathematics as well as astronomy. And interestingly enough, it was a scientist who was challenging us missionary types to renew our appreciation of the transcendence of God.

It was this kind of challenge that the Lord put to Job toward the end of the biographical sketch of Job which we have in the Bible. Job, who has grown just a bit self-righteous, is confronted with the contest between himself and His Creator. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? the Lord asks (Job 38:4).

Faced with such a reproof, Job is prompt to repent of his ignorant presumption in questioning the justice of God. I spoke of things I did not understand, he confesses. (Job 42:3)

As a missions conference speaker I do quite a bit of flying in commercial airplanes. One day looking out the window at 40,000 feet, it struck me how flying that high can help you regain a proper sense of perspective.

While earthbound, it's easy for us to put on all kinds of airs, to exaggerate our own importance. Strutting around in our own little world, we can get filled with intolerable haughtiness. Our ignorant presumptions can even cause us to grossly misunderstand God and even murmur against Him.

Looking out airplane windows, I came to realize again how insignificant one individual is. All the grandiose monuments of human beings are really nothing in comparison to the handiwork of God on just this one planet — to say nothing of the rest of this vast universe.

As Job comes to realize this same thing (without the aid of an airplane at 40,000 feet), he admits that his words have been overly bold and his attitudes toward God have been unbefitting a creature. I despise myself, he says in repentance for his presumption (Job 42:6).

Let's allow this passage to call us to repentance for our presumptuous sins about our own importance. Our lives should be characterized by an appropriate humility before a wise and powerful God. It is, in fact, only in such humility that we can find real dignity as human beings.

I wrote these devotional thoughts while we were missionaries in Italy. They originally appeared in the August 17, 1980 edition of Standard, a take-home piece for adult Sunday school classes.

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