Pride Goeth before the Colossal Wreck
Updated: May 16, 2020
When I was in high school, I participated on our Lincoln-Douglas debate team. The Lincoln-Douglas format pits one debater against another, and it consisted of several different rounds in which each participant was allowed to state their own case on a subject and address their opponent's points. During my freshman year, I placed at several novice (first year) tournaments, including second place at the state competition. Initially, I was able to practice self-control and stymie the pride I had in my success; however, I distinctly remember after one debate round overhearing my opponent speak with a friend. In response to her friend's inquiry on how the round went, she responded, "I debated the guy who placed second at states. Of course, I lost."
Unfortunately, hearing those words awoke a hubris within me that I had not yet experienced in my young life. The euphoria of knowing I was good at something took control over how I viewed myself in light of the rest of the world and revealed an ugly side to success. Regardless of my new found excellence, I was excessively losing rounds less than a year later. The following year after that, I would quit the debate team.
Though my quick rise to success and short decline to mediocrity may not have been the crowning achievement I made it out to be, to my freshman and sophomore mind, I was a king of philosophers and logicians. My achievement, however, did not last. Percy B. Shelly penned a poem titled Ozymandias that I believe addresses a similar pride:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Even had I continued to win several more debate tournaments, my trophies would sooner or later exist only as pedestals of dust and decay. In fact, as I type this, the few trophies I did win are collecting mounds of dust in my parent's garage. Like Ozymandias, my achievements in debate stand boundless and bare.
Pride, arrogance, and hubris are, unfortunately, part of the shared human experience in which we all partake. It comes in many forms and is sometimes harder than not to discover, but we all deal with pride. The apostle Paul understood this, and in a society that coveted glory and fame, he also understood that a shift in perspective was necessary in order to curb the church's hubris. In the book of Philippians, Paul exhorts his readers to "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2: 3-4)
Whether it is with our finances or time, whether it is from a podium or social media post, we are called to do absolutely nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. This is difficult in a world where social status and our level of security and comfort define much of who we are. However, instead of focusing on climbing the social and financial ladder, we need to prioritize the needs of others around us.
Luckily, we have Christ's example to encourage and guide us. Paul continues:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Unlike Ozymandias, Christ did not need to vouch for his own status. He already understood who he was and what authority he had. Instead of proclaiming himself the "King of kings", a title he completely deserved, Paul explains that Jesus humbled himself by becoming a servant and even dying on a cross. Instead of commanding us to look on his works in despair, he calls to us all, regardless of our social and financial status, with his loving grace and mercy. Instead of his crowning achievement wasting away in the annals of time, God exalts him and bestows on him the name that is above every name.
Instead of worrying about our own personal greatness, we should instead focus on Christ's greatness. Our pride so easily blinds us to the glory of God, as it draws our attention to our own glory. If we follow Christ's example, we can disregard ourselves and focus more on sharing his love and caring for our neighbors. There is no room or time for pride in the church. Instead of focusing on a doomed legacy, let us instead focus on the eternal kingdom of God.