When I haven’t been working on funerals or preparing for Holy Week over the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the Christian ideal of humilty. Today follows that pattern, but I’m in Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ this time.
In chapter 2 of book 1, he starts with the idea that “knowledge is a natural desire in all people. But knowledge for its own sake is useless unless you fear God.”
He then compares an unlearned, humble peasant who fears God with a learned person who is proud of their learning but neglects their own soul. The peasant wins hands down, a Kempis writes.
For centuries theologians have quipped that pride was the first sin, and I never understood why. But as I have reread this section, it finally hit me. Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve weren’t content with God knowing best and them only knowing good. They wanted to be like God and know both good and evil. There was a developing pride that said ‘We want to know it all!’
a Kempis writes that the knowledge we really ought to be seeking is self-knowledge.
True self-knowledge makes you aware of your own worthlessness and you will take no pleasure in the praises of others. If your knowledge encompasses the universe and the love of God is not in you, what good will it do you in God’s sight?
I’m reminded of Paul’s words in First Corinthians 13, verses 1-3:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
In God’s view, based on God’s standard, my great learning is no advantage… unless I have love. My pride in my vast knowledge is a hindrance, not an asset.