By Denny Petrillo
Reprinted from the September 2013 issue of “Gospel Advocate” Magazine.
Surveys sometimes reveal what we already suspected. They provide backing to our suspicion. This seems to be the case in one recent survey. The American Freshman Survey, which has been collecting information on more than 9 million young adults for nearly 50 years, determined that today’s young adults have an unreal, inflated view of themselves.
The Greatest Generation?
I grew up hearing and believing that the World War II generation was the “greatest generation.” The men and women who put it all on the line for their country, who worked tirelessly and often without thanks, were considered the greatest generation. This was a generation focused on others, a generation about selflessness and sacrifice. Yet in this recent survey, our college students consider themselves to be the greatest generation. They consider themselves to be gifted. They see themselves as highly motivated and driven to succeed, but their test scores are below average; their work ethic, pathetic; and their abilities, suspect.
Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team, talks about the “toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities – the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.” He notes that social media outlets like Facebook can delude young people into thinking they have hundreds or even thousands of friends. And if someone says something they do not like, they can delete the comment or “unfriend” them.
They are able to create an image of themselves and sell it to the world. This image, of course, frequently does not tell the whole story (or perhaps even half of the story) of their problems and failures. But as time goes by, this self-created image becomes their new reality.1
Certainly parents have to bear a portion, perhaps a large portion, of responsibility for this. In their efforts to bolster their children’s self-esteem, they have praised them and rewarded them for mediocre work. They have awarded ribbons to all participants in the race. I grew up in an environment that when I came in second place, my family would say, “Sorry that you lost.” Today, second place is not losing (neither is third place or fourth place, by the way). Everybody is a winner! We no longer learn from failures because there are no failures.
Dr. Ablow goes on to say: “False pride can never be sustained. The bubble of narcissism is always at risk of bursting. That’s why young people are higher on drugs than ever, drunker than ever, smoking more, tattooed more, pierced more and having more and more and more sex, earlier and earlier and earlier, raising babies before they can do it well, because it makes them feel special, for a while. They’re doing anything to distract themselves from the fact that they feel empty inside and unworthy. … We had better get a plan together to combat this greatest epidemic as it takes shape.”
It is time to revisit biblical humility.
The Humility of Moses
Since I was a youth, I have marveled at the greatness of Moses. When I read about his life, it has a definite “wow factor.” He challenged the greatest, most powerful man on earth and won. He was God’s instrument in bringing about the 10 plagues. He was able to raise his staff and part the Red Sea. He oversaw military victories, led millions of people, received from God the 10 Commandments, and was able to speak directly with the Almighty. Now that’s a pretty impressive résumé!
But couple that with this astounding statement found in Numbers 12:3: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (nasb). That is an amazing statement. Humility refers to a lowliness of mind, a perspective that recognizes the all-powerful nature of God and does not inflate one’s view of self. God is great; I am not. God is all-powerful; I am not. God knows everything; I do not. When we compare the attributes of God with ourselves, humility soon follows.
In view of his accomplishments, how was Moses able to stay humble? And what lessons can we draw from his example and other biblical teachings?
(1) Moses knew that God demanded humility. He saw the sinful pride of Pharaoh and asked him how long he would continue to refuse to be humble before the Lord (Exodus 10:3). Moses recorded the words of the Lord, reminding the Israelites that blessings would come only if they humbled themselves (Leviticus 26:41). We also have abundant passages confirming the divine expectation of humility. Paul commanded that we should “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). James said, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord” (James 4:10). Peter said that all should be clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5).
Parents today need to remember that God demands humility. When they see pride and arrogance in their children, they need to address such things. If I had done some of the “showboating” seen by so many today, my father would have taken me behind the woodshed. Boasting and arrogance were definitely “no-no’s” in the home I grew up in.
(2) Moses determined to stay humble. He made a choice. So is it with all of us. Humility is a developed virtue. It simply is not true that some people are just naturally humble. Jesus told the disciples they needed to become humble like little children (Matthew 18:4). Peter declared quite clearly, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6).
Notice there is a reward for the humble. God will “exalt” the humble. Jesus said: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). I marvel today when record-breaking athletes are humble and defer the glory to others. I equally cringe when I see others proclaim, “I am the greatest!” Humility is a choice.
(3) Moses kept things in perspective. He did some great things, but he always remembered that it was through the power of God and not some innate ability he possessed. We might all point with pride to accomplishments in our lives. Yet it is imperative that we keep all these in a proper perspective. Would God consider these accomplishments great? In keeping things in perspective, Moses remembered that God could bring him down at any moment. Many great people have seen their world come crashing down in an instant: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Solomon taught that there is a divine order: humility first, honor second. He said, “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12; cf. 15:33). The Israelites were feeling pretty good about themselves after “showing up” the Egyptians. But 40 years of wandering in the wilderness can humble even the proudest. This is why Moses said, “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not (Deuteronomy 8:2).
The Babylonian king Belshazzar was made to see in the writing on the wall that his pride had brought about the downfall of his kingdom. Daniel reminded him how God had humbled his father, yet he somehow thought that God would not do the same to him. Thus Daniel said, “Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this” (Daniel 5:22). That very night, God humbled Belshazzar by bringing an end to his kingdom.
The perspective that Moses had apparently is lost among our youth today. He had a proper view of himself, and that proper view helped him stay humble. In contrast, today’s youth (and a lot of adults too) see themselves as greater, smarter and more accomplished than they really are. Who is it that is giving them a dose of reality? It doesn’t appear anyone is.
The best choice is to make a determined effort to be humble. Reflecting on these biblical truths would be a good start. May we always keep in mind the powerful words of Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” o
Denny Petrillo is the president of Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 To read more, go to http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/01/08/are-raising-generation-deluded-narcissists/#ixzz2HaMkGl4Q.