C S Lewis and Humility

(Randy) #1

I just finished reading a fascinating post about Lewis and humility. I often forget that his focus was not only on apologetics, but godly living. Some quotes below struck me.


"Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, swarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seems a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

"The first step in acquiring humility is to realize that you are proud. Until you realize this, nothing can be done about it. “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

“‘C.S. Lewis writes so well about our struggles because he was so honest about his own. He had many people around him who could keep him from getting a big head – the Inklings (J.R.R. Tolkien, et al.), Warren (his brother), Mrs. Moore (who was constantly critical), Joy (his wife, who had a very strong character), as well as many critics, academically and otherwise. Lewis was very reluctant to call himself humble, perhaps because he was so aware of his own pride.’”

Have you found any other good quotes about what true humility is, and how it helps us and our relationship to God and others?

(Laura) #2

Good topic, and I especially appreciate the first quote. Lewis also covered humility a bit in The Screwtape Letters:

You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point.

I believed this for many years, and it’s still hard to get out of that way of thinking, that “being humble” means having low self-esteem. Tim Keller has a very short book called “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” which is on my bedside table but I haven’t started it yet (as with many other things :wink: ). I’m looking forward to it though – he tends to have very probing, succinct observations.

(Randy) #3

I particularly enjoy that portion of Screwtape Letters! Thanks. Yes, Keller is very enjoyable–maybe because he’s humble.

(Christy Hemphill) #4

I think people mistake humility with powerlessness. This is a great interview with Andy Crouch on his book about using power well: https://www.christianitytoday.org/stories/inside-ministry/2013/october/gift-of-power.html

Just because power tends to corrupt and lead to pride doesn’t mean Christians should not be influential. I think the idea of how one exercises appropriate, humble, influence in the spheres in which one is powerful is a very interesting question to consider.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

Can’t remember where I heard it now, but this thought could have been something very Lewisian: “A humble man doesn’t think less of himself, but thinks of himself less.”

I’m feeling my cultural-jargon separation from Lewis here in that I have no idea what is meant by a “greasy, swarmy” person other than to note from context that I guess that isn’t good!

(Randy) #6

Hah! I think that was a typo–“smarmy” I think was the original.
ingratiating and wheedling in a way that is perceived as insincere or excessive.

(Christy Hemphill) #7

I’m reading Dicken’s Great Expectations with my daughter for school. I think there are quite a few greasy, smarmy, fake-humble individuals Dicken’s novels. Hard to define, but you know them when you see them.

(Mark D.) #8

I think of the character from Tolkien’s The Lord of the rings named Wormtongue as smarmy.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

Okay - at least I’ve heard of ‘smarmy’ although you might as well have stuck with “swarmy” for all the good it did me. At least “smarmy” comes with your definition! Of course if it is perceived as insincere, then that may just mean they haven’t sufficiently polished their “shtick” yet!

(Mervin Bitikofer) #10

As a “Dickens illiterate” who has only read [seen] many different versions of Christmas Carol I guess I’m missing out on access to a good spectrum of characters here; since Christmas Carol pretty much has only one villain in the pre-converted Scrooge. Maybe some of the peripheral characters who take pleasure in poking at Scrooge and others might edge toward “smarmy”? If Tolkien’s Wormtongue was an example, that certainly is graphic - and should leave us feeling like we safely fall short of smarmy ourselves.

(Randy) #11

@Christy or Uriah Heep, who always referred to himself as “'umble.” from Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby.”

I enjoyed the quote from Lewis in Screwtape where the Screwtape warns Wormtongue that while it is fun to get the “patient” to squirm about how to be humble, there is always the danger that he will suddenly realize the futility of doing it consciously, and “laugh at you.” I couldn’t find the exact quote, but this is on the same lines from the link:

“And will you believe it, one out of every three is a thought of self-admiration: when everything else fails, having had its neck broken, up comes the thought “What an admirable fellow I am to have broken their necks!” I catch myself posturing before the mirror, so to speak, all day long. I pretend I am carefully thinking out loud what to say to the next pupil (for his good, of course) and then suddenly realize I am thinking how frightfully clever I’m going to be and how he will admire me . . . And then when you force yourselves to stop it, you admire yourself for doing that. It’s like fighting the hydra . . . There seems to be no end to it. Depth under depth of self-love and self-admiration.”

(Randy) #12

“It is not chastening but liberating to know that one has always been almost wholly superfluous; whenever one has done well some other has done all the real work . . . you will do the same for him, perhaps, another day, but you will not know it.”–Lewis :slight_smile:

(Mitchell W McKain) #13

What comes to my mind is the following. Though it might be more about the proper fear of God than about humility… I don’t know. It is by C. S. Lewis in “The Silver Chair.”

“Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.”

(Randy) #14

That is a powerful illustration. Thank you

(Randy) #15

"Lewis goes on to say that if you want a test by which to know how proud you are, “ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off.’”

"It is comparison that makes you proud. It is not necessarily pride to think that you are rich, clever, or good-looking. But it is pride to boast in being richer, cleverer, or better looking than others. Pride might make a man try to take another man’s girlfriend not because he wants her but to show himself better than the other man. Pride is never satisfied, but always demands more.

"Pride is a major obstacle to knowing God. Lewis says:

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

(Dillon) #16

This really resonates with me. Some people have a real “talent” for humility. I’m sure most of us, after reflecting upon Lewis’s quote, are reminded of several figures in our lives. The thing is, most of us don’t even recognize such people when they are “doing their work.” They are ninjas. They sort of “fade into the background.” And yet they give so much. I suppose that’s what the “humility” thing is all about to begin with. I’d say we should do more to recognize such folk… but something tells me these guys aren’t in it for the recognition :wink:

(Randy) #17

Oh, that’s a good observation. :). I like that term, too–humble ninjas!

(system) #18

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