The word ‘proud’ was chosen for this article over a number of other words – conceited, self-centred, self-confident, presumptuous – any of which would have communicated this truth that humans, since Genesis 3, have the audacity, the foolishness and the ignorance to trust in themselves rather than trusting in God.

This human conceit is everywhere evident: we see it in Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. We see it in Cain’s arrogance. We see it at the tower of Babel. We see it in Abraham’s disastrous efforts at self-protection and in his human attempt to ensure God’s promises were fulfilled. We see it in the Pharisees at the time of Christ. We see it in the religious résumé in which Paul had previously trusted.

We see it in the pervasive worldview of secular humanism where God is deliberately discarded and we, the humans, are proclaimed the masters of our future.

But it also lurks in unexpected and hidden places in the hearts of believers. We express it whenever we presume to think that any good deeds of ours can be added to the work of Christ to improve or to ensure our on-going relationship with God. We display it whenever we presume to think that any failure of ours can diminish or undo the work of Christ on the cross. We flaunt it whenever we seek to defend ourselves and our actions and try to make people think we are better than we think they think we are. We exhibit it whenever we believe that some experience or some giftedness of ours sets us above our fellow-humans or our fellow-believers. We have been duped into it when we allow ourselves to live with the heavy burden of believing that our spoken words have the power to create our reality.

This human pride at all points runs counter to trust in God.

Although on the surface it appears to promote and protect us, it is actually a corrosive and destructive thing. It severs us from God. It severs us from God’s promises. It severs us from one another. And it cuts us up inside as we seek to live with the unending tension of living up to our perception of the expectations of God, of others and of ourselves.

Into this situation of human pride comes the gospel of grace: it tells us, on the one hand, that we can do nothing to merit God’s acceptance. It tells us, on the other hand, that those who are 'in Christ' are all one, there is no difference. In ourselves, we are all equally sinners, all equally disqualified. In Christ, we are all equally acquitted, all equally qualified. Our human pride, our human self-conceit, has no place here.

It is with good reason that Karl Barth wrote:

‘”I believe” means “I trust”. No more must I dream of trusting in myself, I no longer require to justify myself, to excuse myself, to attempt to save and preserve myself. This most profound effort of man to trust to himself, to see himself as in the right, has become pointless. I believe – not in myself – I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.’

And, referring to the tension between our human pride and faith in God:

‘The greatest hindrance to faith is again and again just the pride and anxiety of our human hearts. We would rather not live by grace. Something within us energetically rebels against it. We do not wish to receive grace …’

In our pride we would rather not be dependent on God. So we devise and embrace the theory of evolution to remove our physical dependence on God. And we devise and embrace our own human religions, or our human corruptions of the true religion, to remove our spiritual dependence on God. We are ready to believe anything that puts power into our human hands, even when it also loads us with unbearable burdens of anxiety, meaninglessness and aloneness. Even when it removes joy and peace.

Whether we are unbelievers or believers, may we all repent of this human pride, and return to the relationship of dependence on God for which we were created. There, and only there, can we experience deep and abiding inner peace and joy.

Scriptures: Genesis 3, 4, 11, 16, 20; Philippians 3; Romans 3:19-24; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 1:12; Romans 5:1,11; John 14:27; 15:11; 16:22.

Barth quotes: from Dogmatics in Outline, pages 18,20, SCM, London, 1966.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013, 2016