Takeaway: Obscurity, humility, smallness. All undervalued and difficult disciplines in a world of individualism, social media and mixed messages.
I ran across the very interesting book Embracing Obscurity on Tim Challies’ blog. His review gave a bit of the back story and resulted in the book being put on sale for a couple weeks at Amazon.
An anonymous author decided to write a book about humility. The author realized that writing a book about humility was in itself an un-humble activity so he (and I think it is pretty clearly a he) decided to write and publish a book secretly. Even his family is unaware.
The story intrigued me all by itself. It is not that people can’t write books about humility. I generally liked CJ Mahaney’s book (although given recent issues he may not be taking his own advice seriously). John Perkins has never expressly written about humility, but the whole focus of his life has been intentional downsizing for ministry. Andrew Murray has one of the more famous (and now free) books on Humility. The major theme of Robert Lupton’s book Theirs Is The Kingdom, a book that was very influential to me in college and beyond, was gaining humility while ministering to the poor. But the desire to be serious enough about humility to write a book anonymously made me take notice.
On the whole, this is a great book. Humility is hard. Especially in an individualistic culture like ours. Anything we can do to help bring attention to it, help think about it and help gain it as a spiritual discipline I think is worth doing.
For me the biggest ah ha moment was his discussion of the Joseph Principle. This is the underlying assumption that like Joseph of Old Testament fame, if we have suffering, then it means that God is preparing us for something great in our future. And as Western Christians suffering can mean anything from stubbing our toe or getting a bad parking spot to losing a child. It is a pretty wide range. However, the real problem is that the Joseph Principle is not true biblically. Suffering does not automatically mean God is preparing us for something. And if God is preparing us from something it may not be something that is big or public.
That brings up the only real problem I had with the book. There is a good section on embracing suffering as means to humility. And while much of it I thought was good. There seemed to be a missing statement that suffering for its own sake is not necessarily good. Even Paul said that if you were a slave and you can get out of course you should. I think even a brief statement to that effect would have balanced and made the book better. Suffering, whether large or small is something that we should endure with grace when it comes upon us. But I do not think there is reason to seek it out or not remove ourselves from it when we can while still following God’s direction.
There is a great little paragraph where the author kind of makes fun of the whole process of seeking out humility. He introduces how scripture talks about humility.
…if we want to ditch our pride we must: Fear the Lord (Prov. 8:13). Embrace wisdom (Prov. 11:2). Commit our actions to the Lord (Prov. 16:1–3). Live humbly and do right (Prov. 16:18–19). Don’t trust ourselves; live by faithfulness to God (Hab. 2:4). Associate with the lowly, for Christ’s sake. Strive to be least (Luke 9:48). Humble ourselves by settling for less than we “deserve” (Luke 14:10–11). Serve others (Luke 22:26–27). Receive God’s grace to stand against evil desires (James 4:6). Don’t boast about our plans, but submit them to the Lord (James 4:13–17). Easy to read, much harder to digest and apply!
Embracing Obscurity is a worthwhile read. Part of the problem then is figuring out what are the good steps toward developing a spiritual discipline of humility. There are some suggestions in the book, but the real steps are very personal because humility is such a culturally constrained idea. At the very least, putting a question in front of us, “Are we doing this to be seen?” is a good first step.