In the past seven years, cataclysmic events have caused divisions and frustrations to rise in the broader society and church. The US presidential elections, COVID-19 pandemic, racial tensions, war in Ukraine, and inflation have left many of us exhausted but on edge. These are global traumas and stresses, but I sense that the heart of the problem is personal. In civil and social discourse, as well in church culture, we exhibit political pride and a lack of political and intellectual humility and kindness. Instead, we are called to exude a robust humility as we engage in public discourse and participate in God’s kingdom, and at the epicenter of such a practice is the embrace of our individual identity as beloved. That is, through the life of Jesus, we are invited into a life of humility, a life in which we find that love and hospitality are the fruit of humility and neighborliness.
ON EPISTEMIC HUMILITY
A study in the Journal of Personality defines intellectual humility as recognizing that one’s beliefs may be wrong, whereas a lack of intellectual humility means upholding one’s own beliefs without attempting to understand people who hold differing views. The writers indicate that individuals “with low intellectual humility go on to derogate their sociopolitical opponents as unethical or immoral” and that they are therefore “less willing to befriend those who hold opposing views.” Contempt is not a starting place for understanding, friendship, or love. Biases and assumptions are not the breeding ground for understanding and connection.
Conversely, there are many positive benefits to practicing the virtue of humility. According to a study on humility by the Journal for Psychology and Theology, the virtue of humility is “hidden beneath the surface of the other virtues.” People who score high in humility are more likely to have better physical and relational health, perform better in academic and professional settings, and have more patience and empathy. People with high levels of humility are also more likely to show forgiveness or generosity toward others.
Having humility is clearly good for our own health and well-being and for the relationships we foster around us, but what does it actually mean to be humble? The root of humility, hum, refers to the earth or ground. A mark of humility is knowing where you came from. During the time of Lent in the Christian church calendar, Ash Wednesday is celebrated to remember that we originate from dust and that we shall one day return to dust. We will all die. We are all made from dirt. When we understand where we come from and that we are not the omniscient God, humility is the natural (and beneficial!) outcome.
If humility is the virtue beneath the surface of all the other virtues, pride is the capital vice because it gives birth to all other sins. As Tsh Oxenreider says in her devotional book on the Lenten season, “Pride tempts us to believe knowing is enough and that our actions don’t matter.” We live in a political climate where what you know is more important than who you are and being right is more important than being a person of love. And of course, we see this all the time in our fractured religious landscape, as Christians are no more humble than the politicians they’re so frequently critical of.
Humility comes when we recognize the essence of our being—we are beloved daughters and sons of God. Jesus knew he was a beloved son, safe in his father’s care, and because of his death and resurrection, we too are claimed as God’s children (see John 1:14).At the deepest part of our being is the reality that we are loved by God. Being the beloved changes us into people who can embrace a rhythm of love in every dimension of life. And the person who knows they are beloved, in turn, treats others in the reality of their belovedness.
Henri J. M. Nouwen writes in his book Life of the Beloved that “when our deepest truth is that we are beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming the truth, it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways we eat, and drink, talk and love, play, and work.”
A common distraction from our identity as the beloved of God is a lust for control and domination. The temptation for power is consistently a threat for those who would dare to become a person of love in God’s upside-down kingdom. It is easier to strive for power than to listen to those with whom we disagree. Just as Satan fell because he wanted to become the one who is worshipped, we too can fall to a lust for power; even if our envies or pursuits for power are on a much smaller scale, we too may want to be worshipped, and we may let this pride eclipse our desire to seek the delight and worship of the Trinity.
Nouwen warned against the dangers of Christian leaders striving for power. He writes, “What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.” Indeed, lusting for power can appear an alluring alternative to becoming a person of love. Becoming a loving person means becoming one who seeks to know others and to be known in community, to love a particular group of people instead of exercising control, to share a life built on mutual respect and understanding instead of unquestionable totalitarianism. Power blinds us to our needs to be connected and embraced for our true identity as the beloved. Nouwen continues, “The long painful history of the church is the people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.”The church needs to follow the example of Jesus—who finding himself in the appearance of man, humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (see Phil. 2:8).
And how does this relate to political humility? When an individual, or political party, seeks power and control in their own right, people inevitably suffer. The love of a political point of view can overpower the love of one’s neighbor. In the Gospels, Jesus told us to love the Lord our God with all of our soul, mind, and strength and to love others as we love ourselves. This love for God and others is the essence of the kingdom of God (see Matt. 22:36–40).
Jesus did not attempt to climb the political ladder to become king; he knew that his kingdom was not of this world. In fact, he warned his disciples about exercising their authority like those in the world—they are not to lord their power over others (see Matt. 20:25–28). On this point, Dan B. Allender writes the following:
Jesus would turn all forms of liberalism and conservatism on their petty heads because he was unwilling to veer from kingdom values. . . . Jesus was not an Israel nationalist, and one can readily assume that he is not an American nationalist. He is the embodiment of the kingdom of God, and that is the political, social, relational, spiritual kingdom with which Christians are supposed to be aligned.
As Allender suggests, the kingdom of God is not embodied in a political party. The kingdom of God is its own, separate kingdom and government with Jesus enthroned as king. When we align ourselves wholeheartedly to an earthly political party or kingdom, we will inevitably have to compromise living in God’s kingdom. Jesus did not give in to the political scheming of his day. He chose another way. The way that Jesus ventured, toward his kingdom of life, light, and love, was more hidden; it was out of the spotlight.
It takes courage to offer our allegiance to a hidden kingdom that is not of this world, to a kingdom that does not always bring immediate financial or social advancement. Going along with the cultural and political opinions of the day, without submission to the true King, may lead to political and social entitlement and pride, whereas embracing humility and the possibility of being wrong can help us realign ourselves with God.
Despite the clear teaching that Jesus outlines for his students, we often do not treat our brothers and sisters of differing social and political opinions as Jesus does. We forget that Jesus’s primary mission was relational and not political. He reconnects us to God and each other. He moves into the neighborhood despite us and our differences.
Eugene Peterson writes the following in his translation of the Bible, The Message:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. (John 1:14 MSG)
In other words, Jesus moves into our lives and hearts regardless of whether we have the right way of thinking about particular controversial and political topics. God is hospitable toward us, even when we have not arrived at the perfect systematic theology or dogma or political perspective. God’s moving into the neighborhood is demonstrative of how we can do the same for others. Jesus moves toward us with compassion and love; he is radiantly generous with each of us. He is remarkably tender toward us frail creatures. Perhaps we could also express that same tenderness and care for one another. Jesus invites us to come to him, regardless of ourselves and our shortcomings. And we are encouraged to become imitators of God—to walk in love (see Eph. 5:1–2), to deal gently with others in our differences. Perhaps if we took this seriously, we could become tender with our political and social opponents, perhaps we could begin to listen and have dialogue as opposed to critical monologues.
The only lasting thing in this is love. It’s the greatest of all the virtues (see 1 Cor. 13:13). Regardless of our political or cultural ideologies, love needs to be at the center of how we treat one another, acknowledging the belovedness of everyone. As Wendell Berry writes in his novel Jayber Crow, “We must take love to the limit of time, because time cannot limit it. A life cannot limit it. Maybe to have it in your heart all your life in this world, even while it fails here, is to succeed. Maybe that is enough.” In a world of polarization, rivalry, and division, perhaps there is a better way. Could Jesus and his kingdom be big enough for all? Could even our differences be welcome? Maybe love is enough.
 Matthew L. Stanley, Alyssa H. Sinclair, and Paul Seli, “Intellectual Humility and Perceptions of Political Opponents,” Journal of Personality 88, no. 6 (2020): 1196–216, https://doi.org/10.1111/jopy.12566.
 Caroline R. Lavelock, Everett L. Worthington Jr., Don E. Davis, Brandon J. Griffin, Chelsea A. Reid, Joshua N. Hook, and Daryl R. Van Tongeren, “The Quiet Virtue Speaks: An Intervention to Promote Humility,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 42, no. 1 (2014): 99–110. Also see Julie J. Exline and Peter C. Hill, “Humility: A Consistent and Robust Predictor of Generosity,” Journal of Positive Psychology 7, no. 3 (2012): 208–18.
 Oxenreider, Bitter and Sweet: A Journey into Easter (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2022).
 Nouwen, Life of the Beloved (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1992), 47.
 Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1992), 76–77.
 Allender, “What Would Jesus Do,” in Allender and Cathy Loerzel, Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True Calling (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books, 2021), 177.
 Berry, Jayber Crow (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2001), 249.