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Understanding Humility


US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late yesterday. She met today with Taiwanese lawmakers and then with Taiwan’s president. Some are supporting her visit; others are criticizing her. China responded by announcing military exercises that will surround the island.

My focus today is not on the politics of her trip but on her stated reasons for going. Shortly after landing, she stated: “Our congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. America’s solidarity with the twenty-three million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”

After she landed, an article she wrote for the Washington Post was released that further explained the reasons for her visit. In it she detailed ongoing abuses by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP): “The CCP’s brutal crackdown against Hong Kong’s political freedoms and human rights ... cast the promises of ‘one-country, two-systems’ into the dustbin. In Tibet, the CCP has long led a campaign to erase the Tibetan people’s language, culture, religion, and identity. In Xinjiang, Beijing is perpetrating genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities. And throughout the mainland, the CCP continues to target and arrest activists, religious-freedom leaders, and others who dare to defy the regime.”

She is right on all counts. Why are China’s leaders acting in such a brutally oppressive manner? Why is this issue relevant to every American and especially every American Christian?

Why China oppresses its citizens

I was invited some years ago to deliver a series of lectures in Beijing. The leaders who attended asked me to focus on the subject of corruption in their business culture. I explained to them that this problem is a symptom of the Marxist worldview that dominates their society.

The second paragraph of the CCP’s constitution states that it “takes Marxism-Leninism” as its first guide. It adds, “Marxism-Leninism brings to light the laws governing the development of the history of human society” and claims, “Its basic tenets are correct and have tremendous vitality.”

What does this mean in practical terms?

When I taught philosophy of religion in seminary, I taught a section on Marxism. There we discussed its foundational claim that individuals are most benefited when the state succeeds. The good of the state is the good of the people. As a result, whatever serves the state is to be valued.

This worldview rejects any religious or objective moral constraints. If advancing China means oppressing its citizens, threatening Taiwan, or stealing intellectual property from America, such immorality is embraced. If religious groups threaten the control of the ruling party, they must be oppressed or eliminated. (For more, see my latest website article, “Was al-Zawahiri a terrorist or a martyr?”)

China’s Communist rulers illustrate Speaker Pelosi’s assertion: “The world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”

"To have and to want to have more"

Let me take today’s conversation a step further: every soul faces the same choice.

Autocracy (“the rule of one”) is appealing so long as you get to be the “one.” The ideological belief that one person (President Xi Jinping in this case) can rule a nation of 1.4 billion people betrays a total denial of the biblical fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), including Xi Jinping.

One might think that any person’s knowledge of their own failures and shortcomings would preclude such pridefulness. But one symptom of our fallenness is the “will to power” Friedrich Nietzsche so accurately described. Nietzsche claimed, “Every living thing does everything it can not to preserve itself but to become more” and added: “To have and to want to have more—growth, in one word—that is life itself.”

Democracy (“the rule of the people”) is therefore necessary, as C. S. Lewis explained in The Weight of Glory, because “fallen men [are] so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows.” It is true, as our Declaration of Independence states, that “all men are created equal” (cf. Genesis 1:27). But it is also true that because of the Fall, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).

How I am being tempted right now

The fallenness of humanity is the primary reason I believe in democracy. It is why I believe America should support democracy wherever and however we can. However, my commitment to democracy contains the seeds of its own destruction: if one person cannot be trusted to rule others, ipso facto, a collective of people cannot be trusted to rule themselves.

As a result, the most foundational need we face is not defeating Communist China or advancing democracy but facing the “will to power” in our own souls. It is confessing our prideful rebellion against our Creator to a Savior who alone can forgive us and restore us to our Father.

For Christians, it is confessing when we use even our faith as a means to our ends. Rest assured: I am just as tempted as you are. I am tempted right now to serve God by writing this Daily Article in the unstated hope that in so doing I will impress you and thus serve myself. I am tempted to serve in vocational ministry in the unstated hope that others will see me as a “man of God” and think more highly of me than they would otherwise. Every vocational minister faces the same temptations every day.

The good news is that our Father can mold us into the humble character of his Son (Romans 8:29; Philippians 2:5-11). If we admit our pride, he will forgive us (Ephesians 1:7). If we seek to humble ourselves, he will help us (cf. Psalm 25:9).

The first step to humility

Where do we begin?

I must quote C. S. Lewis once more. In Mere Christianity, he observed, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

Do you think you are conceited today?

NOTE: For more on the conflict between China and Taiwan, see Mark Legg’s article on our website. For more on the recent rise in tensions with China, see Ryan Denison’s article as well.

Publication Date: August 3, 2022

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Takako Watanabe

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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