Chesterton on Humility

G.K. Chesterton in his short expose “A Defense of Humility”, explains that in studying anything, it’s interesting to note that in a way, the devoted mind mentally tries to become like the thing it studies, “The earnest student of fish morality will, spiritually speaking, chop off his legs… the spirit wishing to enter into all the hopes and fears of jellyfish will simplify his personal appearance to a really alarming extent.” He explains, “We do actually go through a process of mental asceticism, a castration of the entire being, when we wish to feel the abounding good in all things.” Regarding humility, Chesterton states, “It is good for us at certain times that ourselves should be like a mere window—as clear, as luminous, and as invisible.” He expounds upon this thought, “Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that to it all the cosmic things are what they really are—of immeasurable stature.” In other words, just like how we reduce ourselves to our objects of study, likewise we must do the same with humility. Only when we imagine ourselves without arms, or without bones, will we truly understand what it means to be a bird, or a jellyfish. With humility, only when we rid ourselves of egotism and self-love will we truly be able to start understanding “the cosmic things” and the knowledge which lies beyond our prideful selves. A man cannot come before God and expect to hear gospel from Him when he prays with a selfish, egotistic heart.  When he says, “we should become like a mere window”, Chesterton is expressing this truth. He is saying that to really know the Creator, we must empty ourselves from ourselves. This makes sense. Within us lies deceit, vanity, lust, pride, and evil. As Christians committed to living our lives for God, it’s important to for us to realize this truth and strip ourselves from the ego, submitting every aspect of our being to Him. Knowing Christ begins with this humility.

How do we apply this to our lives? With writing for example, excellence is sought to glorify God; essays are viewed (when possible) as a means to use our words for Christ; and communication is not considered a medium to demonstrate the excellence of our thoughts, instead, it’s viewed as a tool to reach people with the truth. Writing is just one piece of the puzzle, there will always be many aspects of our lives that we can submit to God.  Some however, find this type submission boring or suppressing, but Chesterton decries this notion. He does this by describing the experience of the humble, “the spirit which has stripped off for a moment its own idle temporal standards the grass is an everlasting  forest…the heathbells on their stalks are like planets hung in heaven each higher than the other… World after world falls from him into insignificance; the whole passionate and intricate life of common things becomes as lost to him as is the life of the infusoria to a man without a microscope. He rises always through desolate eternities….” These he concludes, “are the visions of him who, like the child in the fairy tales, is not afraid to become small.” Chesterton is right about humility and its beauties. Considering the marvels, the childlikeness, and the freedom, humility isn’t boring, no, it’s worth the cost. Let us lay down ourselves and find it.

Chesterton, G.K. In Defense of Humility