Thinking highly of oneself leads to a desire for being great in the sight of the others, and even in the relationship with God, causing one to fall in blasphemy, as the case with the Satan and many atheists.
It is arrogance, and it is often divided into three types:
Arrogance related to secular matters, arrogance related to monasticism, and arrogance related to dogmatic and theological issues.
Secular arrogance: It is the case of being puffed up within, with pride appearing in one's looks, steps, sitting, outer appearance, and way of speaking. Such a person walks haughtily, taking an aristocratic appearance in all dealings!
Monastic arrogance: It appears in boasting of silence, solitude, and outer sack clothing, without training oneself in purity of heart and mind, or practicing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5: 22, 23). A monk of this type exalts himself above other monks and disdains and criticizes those who are of lower level of asceticism and solitude.
Dogmatic and theological arrogance: This appears clearly in those who seek to speak in tongues as a sign of fullness of the Spirit, and speak about their experience publicly from over the pulpit. They claim that they give the Holy Spirit to the others by the laying on of their hands on them. They claim that Satan is under their feet!
Some would claim having theological knowledge and innovation which nobody else has, and by this they fall in heresies.
Strange indeed that most of those who exalted themselves had experienced God's benefits or gifts! Someone may for instance be puffed up for having intelligence or artistic sense, or for having energy or power, big wealth, or a high post or distinguished position! Such a person may even look down on the others or ignore his old friends! The poet truly says in this context:
"When my friend grew rich, I became sure I lost my friend"
Such people do not bear such honors, as St. Anthony said:
"Some can bear insults but cannot bear honors, for bearing honors is more difficult than bearing insults!"
Many of those who had received honors became puffed up and exalted, and they lost their humbleness and meekness. Likewise those who received intellectual, artistic, or even spiritual gifts fell in pride or at least in self-admiration! Even the Lord's disciples, they fell in self-admiration when the demons were subject to them through the gift granted them by the Lord. They said to Him joyfully, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." But He said to them "Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." (Lk 10: 17, 20)
That is why a holy father once said, "If God gives you a certain gift, ask Him to give you with it humbleness that protect it, or to take it away." This will protect a person from heart elevation that may lead to falling.
Therefore only the humble are entrusted with the Lord's gifts, as the Scripture says that God gives grace to the humble (Jas 4: 6; Prov 3: 34). That is why the Lord chose the most humble virgin to be incarnated from her, because she was capable of bearing such great honor. When that virgin went to St. Elizabeth, the latter said to her, "But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1: 43) However, in spite of this the mother of the Lord answered the angel who announced to her the Lord's birth, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." (Lk 1: 38) Indeed, the Lord has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant (Lk 1: 48)!
With such humbleness she could bear the descending of the Holy Spirit upon her and His work within her. She could bear the live coal of the divinity, all the visions of the angels, and the miracles that accompanied the birth of the Lord. She did not speak about all these glories but she kept them in her heart (Lk 2: 51).
The same applies to the Lord's disciples; He chose them from the humble classes.
"God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence." (1 Cor 1: 27- 29) He chose Moses who was of uncircumcised lips (Ex 6: 30), and who was aware of his own weakness, as he said to the Lord, "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." (Ex 4: 10) Nevertheless God made of him His spokesman and miracle worker!
Trials and gifts:
St. Paul the Apostle is an example: He had many visions, for the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), blamed him, and called him to the ministry. The Lord also appeared to him in Corinth in the night by a vision, and said to him "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city." (Act 18: 9, 10) In Jerusalem in the temple, likewise, when in a trance, the Lord appeared to him and said, "Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles." (Acts 22: 17, 21) Again He appeared to him and said, "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome." (Acts 23: 11) This apostle labored more abundantly than all the other apostles (1 Cor 15: 10), spoke with tongues more than them all (1 Cor 14: 18), and was caught up into Paradise (2 Cor 12: 2), yet, a thorn in the flesh was given to him, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations (2 Cor 12: 7). He permitted it and permitted that it continues with him to remind him of his weakness lest he be puffed up because of the abundance of such spiritual glory. Though he pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from him, the Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12: 8, 9)
Another example is David the Prophet: David the Psalmist the player of the flute, lyre, and lute, who had the talent of poetry and music, the mighty man of valor and man of war, who defeated Goliath (1 Sam 16: 17, 18), killed both lion and bear (1 Sam 17: 35, 36), and who became the Lord's anointed after Samuel had anointed him and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him (1 Sam 16: 13) ... in spite of all his gifts …
God permitted that King Saul rise violently against him and humiliate him.
God permitted King Saul to pursue David in the wilderness and plot to kill him, and humiliate him to the extent that he described himself as a dead dog and a flea (1 Sam 24: 14). God even permitted that David fall and commit sin, a matter for which he felt humiliation and filled his life with tears, as he said, "I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears." (Ps 6: 6) "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes." (Ps 119: 71) Yes, it is true that affliction made a balance between the glory of prophesying and the luxury of royalty, and the music of the lute and flute! It is a deep spiritual lesson, God permits that His children experience affliction that the heart may be humbled lest glories lead them to pride.
Job the Righteous is a third example:
God permitted that he experiences another kind of humiliation, that of poverty, disease, and disdain from his friends. God permitted it although He had witnessed twice for him: "There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" (Job 1: 8; 2: 3)) He also was the greatest of all the people of the East (Job 1: 3), very respectable, the young men saw him and hid, and the aged arose and stood, when the ear heard, then it blessed him, and when the eye saw, then it approved him (Job 29: 8, 11). As he said about himself, "I delivered the poor who cried out, the fatherless and the one who had no helper … I was eyes to the blind, and I was feet to the lame. I was a father to the poor." (Job 29: 12 – 16) For all this, God permitted the trial of Job lest he be righteous in his own eyes (Job 32: 1).
Usually God cares about the safety of His children lest pride destroy them. Through trials and tribulations, or passions and diseases, God protects them lest they be puffed up by glories.
A fourth example is Jacob the Patriarch:
God loved Jacob even before being born (Rom 9: 11- 13). The blessing Jacob got was that peoples serve him, and nations bow down to him, he be master over his brethren, and his mother’s sons bow down to him (Gen 27: 29). God appeared to him above a ladder set up on the earth and its top reaching to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending on it. There God blessed him, saying, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go." (Gen 28: 12- 15) Moreover Jacob struggled with God and with men and prevailed (Gen 32: 28), and God blessed him and gave him a new name. He saw God face to face (Gen 32: 30).
In spite of all this, lest Jacob fall in pride, and that he may recognize his weakness, God touched his hip in the muscle that shrank, and he limped on his hip (Gen 32: 30, 31)!
One may inquire why God permitted that Jacob limp on his hip all his life, but the answer is that it was useful for him and better than be left to pride. The same applies to Paul the Apostle; he was given a thorn in the flesh lest he be exalted by the many revelations.
God cares in the first place for the eternity of His children, if afflictions are useful and lead to contrition of heart, He permits them. That is why St. Paul the Apostle says, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor 12: 10)
Infirmities and tribulations prevent pride, lead to humbleness, and make a person seek power from God, "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor 12: 9)
Let us stop at this point and continue on the same topic next week – God willing.