The Humility of God

Second Sunday After Pentecost

Guest post by Johnny Serratt

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)

Psalm 138

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

Christians, and the people of Israel before them, confess that The Lord is almighty, high, and lifted up. There are not kings who can challenge our Lord and King and there are no gods who rival the glory and honor due to our God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Rather, the glory of the Lord is searing, and his holiness is unapproachable as he sits high, and enthroned. From there, all that exists is being sustained by him, kept afloat by his hands. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deut 6:4)

Likewise, God is near to us, he is not an aloof or distant patrician who collects our praises from a distant land. Our Lord is one who hears the cries of oppression from his covenant people and draws near to them. His holy breath sustains our life, a nagging reminder of God’s invisible presence amongst us. The hidden presence of God is mundane and that, due to humanity’s pride, has made it easy to dismiss. We want a king who impedes on our life with arrogance, lifted high with almost no thought given to the insulted Celestial Monarch. Even still, the Lord is faithful and unwilling to be puffed up with a pride we so often glorify.

How is God both almighty and lowly? Holding all things together yet rejected as king of his people? Exalted on high and intimately near to us? Why does this faithful Lord allow his covenant people to reject him for an earthly King? To insufficiently answer these questions: our God is humble and patient. The Lord has not seen fit to emblazon creation with the Holiness that is his life; nor are our minds melted by Providence, removing our ability to will. Life with all its freedom and oddities is sourced by this humble and patient Lord. He has freely chosen to be holy, glorious, and able to intimately see the lowly, even taking a place amongst them.

The humility of God is on full display in our attempt to talk about God, either in churches or amongst ourselves. It is with respect for Karl Barth (who said “we ought to speak of God. But we are humans and cannot speak of God. We ought to do both, to know the ‘ought’ and the ‘not able to,’ and precisely in this way give God the glory”) that we claim, against his words, but with his spirit, to be able to speak of God in a real yet limited way. God is truly glorious and categorically distinct from creation; however, our Lord is compassionate, humble, and willing to enter the tricky creature that is our language. This is the gift present to us in scripture, preaching, prophesying, and prayer. Our praises reach the heavens, and our tears can stain the shoulder of our invisible Lord because he humbly chooses to inhabit his creation. 

These gifts are not just available; they come from the work of God’s indwelling Spirit. We hear Paul attest to this, “We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: ‘I had faith, and so I spoke.’ We also have faith, and so we also speak.” (2 Cor 4:13 CEB) Our Lord is not visible to all eyes and cannot be attested to by just any witness. No, the Spirit must provoke faith in us, that drives us to speak with and of God. Our act of humility, by submitting to the work of God’s Spirit in us, is opened to God’s wider act of humility, as he makes himself lowly for us to praise and speak of him adequately. 

 We must not, however, objectify God, claim his name, like the family of Jesus does. (Mark 3:31-32 CEB) Nothing inherent to humanity gives us the pride of place to call on God. We must join with the primordial humility of God, which is signified in his act of creation, by humbling ourselves to the faith brought about in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. By responding in humility, which is the first step of following God’s will, we are brought into the family of Jesus Christ. Here we receive the joy of speaking to God as a brother, sister, or as other family members do. It is one of God’s most humble acts of joining us in the cramped intimacy of family life.

We are the people of a humble and celestial King. There is nothing created that measures up to the compassionate presence or boot-quaking glory of our God. This reality, though, only comes into view once we respond in humility to the faith brought about in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. Then, while becoming intimately aware of this One’s true majesty, we are showered in his love and life. Thus, when we look at our life we find assurance in the words of Paul, “We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we have a building from God. It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.” (2 Cor 5:1 CEB)

Johnny Serratt is a Master of Divinity student at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, NC, where he lives with his wife and 21-month-old son, Thomas.

Image Credit: St. Giles’ Chapel, Edinburgh