Wednesday, April 16, 2014

C.S. Lewis on Confidence and Humility

Is it possible to be confident and humble at the same time? — to value and use our talents well without thinking we're more valuable than others? Or is it necessary that we either be confident with pride or be humble with self-deprecation?

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis communicates that God's aim is for us to have confident humility (or humble confidence) in Him without it being necessary either for us to be arrogant on the one hand or to debase the value and talents He's given us on the other. Further, this gratitude and diminishing concern for self altogether is an outgrowth of conversion — the change from trusting in ourselves to depending fully on Jesus.

As you may be aware, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, for rhetorical effect, as letters from one demon named Screwtape to his demonic nephew, Wormwood. Therefore, "the Enemy" in this passage (from that diabolical perspective) is God; The "patient" is a human like us.

The following quote is all of Chapter/Letter 14.

* * *

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of “grace” for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad.

I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.