Monday, August 18, 2008

If Pride is Wrong, Ought we Honor?

"Outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10). Honor is an odd thing. Most Christians would think that any thought of joy in your achievements would be the immoral Pride of Life. Honor then seems, in their minds, like showing up at church in a short skirt and plunging neckline. If Honor is a pleasurable gift we give to those we honor at the recognition of their dignity or accomplishment, are we not tempting them to pride? Why, in heaven's name, are we are told by the Apostle to do it? Maybe the pleasure serves a purpose for which it is worth risking pride.

We all agree, of course, that flattery is wrong, but why? The Scripture tells us to honor and not to flatter. In this distinction people need, before God, to know who they are, and honest honor is "another lips praising you and not your own" (Proverbs 27:2). This helps them know, confidently and with pleasure, the reach of humanity that they have arrived at being. They need to know, for God has delegated to them this Self, and that Self will one day be judged by God. They need to know accurately (risking, but not necessitating pride) or they, with conceit, would be pleased at the false. "For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him." Romans 12:3. Why is it Christians have, over the years, suspected that any pleasure for self was evil? Why did God make sex feel so good? And art so sublime? And honor about an achievement so satisfying? Those pleasures were made by God, and God, it says, "tempts no one". These things draw us as much to the good that God intended in their creation as to the bad.

All these gifts of God have a service which God desired and to which we must make payments. Husbands and wives must give each other conjugal rights. That there is, in fact, an erotically charged book in the Bible intimates that God wishes His good gifts to be pursued. Praise is an obligation, just like sex in marriage. And just like sex in marriage, it is the other which we serve with our action. The Lover, the Artist and the Praise-giver have their own share in the pleasure, but their task is clearly the communication of pleasures to the Loved, the Audience, and the Honored.

So as we honor, honestly and persistently, we announce the gains a man or woman has made to the ears of that man or woman. We tell them that their efforts have born fruit. Yes, they really do deserve that trophy. Just as when we praise God and we declare His great deeds, so it is with praising others. We announce to them that they are truly becoming that which a man is or can be. Since he is defined by the extent and success of his will, your honor to him is a scale, measuring what he willed and how he succeeded.

A world that markets Fear, be it in the News, the commercials, the worrying mothers, or the wusses we used to call "fathers" or "men", is playing a part in this game as well. While flattery is the usually insincere and certainly inflated measurement of the standing of he whom we honor, Fear is the measure of what still stands outside threatening the success of our will. In the purveying of Fear is the constant suggestion that defeat and loss are its currency. It says "you are not man enough to withstand this...". Fear announces, sometimes truly, that other things, Accident, Luck, Providence, the governments, or God Himself are real agents who rule an area outside our will. Flattery is dangerous because it tells us to go where angels fear to tread. And it is natural that we should fear going where we have not the chops to successfully rule. But where is fear bad? Fear is bad when it makes of us cowards. Fear is bad when your very humanity is jeopardized by an incorrect belief that you could not do what you certainly could and should. You become "safer" and your world becomes a zoo, where you can look "wild at heart" but never wander past unnatural confines. The fences are high, all the rocks are rounded, and they offer a diet and medicines promising to abate all futility— all this because you are too afraid to run your own life at the measure which God assigned. And that fear made you back up from and give up key elements of your humanity. You are left, not with rule by reason and wisdom, but with a packaged and plastic play area in which your most ignoble urges can play.... with a helmet. Perhaps if we honored others like we were told, we could hinder this culture of the terrified.

No comments: