Magazine article The Christian Century

Boldly Humble

Magazine article The Christian Century

Boldly Humble

Article excerpt

WHAT CAUSES YOU to become discouraged?" I asked a visitor from eastern Congo who started a university in that country a few years ago. He told me that the school had grown from 200 to 500 to 800 students, and that it was adding new areas of study. I was impressed as he described the intersections of pastoral training, agriculture and health. He painted a portrait of a school that is exciting, imaginative and hopeful.

I knew that his university is close to the intense violence of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I was sure there must be enormous obstacles and frustrations associated not only with a lack of material resources but also with threats of violence.

But the visitor responded to my expression of concern with "Oh, I never get discouraged," then added: "Yes, there was one time--when I was confronted by a 12-year-old with an AK-47. I don't get too worried if I encounter an armed adult, because I can usually talk him out of whatever he's planning to do. But with 12-year-olds it's different. They will almost always kill you, because they think they have to obey orders. So I was discouraged.

"But once I talked the boy out of killing me, I realized that there wasn't any reason to be scared or discouraged. I just need to keep myself and my work focused on God. As long as I do that, I don't get discouraged."

Earlier that day I had been in budget meetings where I'd become discouraged. I had new data on the severity of our endowment's decline, and I was wrestling with challenging budget projections for the next five years. I felt the burdens acutely and was feeling rather low. Yet here was a Christian friend telling me I need not, indeed should not, become discouraged.

Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses' leadership in Numbers 12. They want to know what makes him so special. The narrator responds that "the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth." This description is puzzling. Anyone who's read the book of Exodus would not think of Moses and humility in the same sentence, especially if humility is associated with meekness. What does it mean to identify Moses as "very humble," indeed more humble than anyone else in the world?

Richard S. Briggs sheds light on the question in his forthcoming book The Virtuous Reader." Old Testament Narrative and Interpretive Virtue (Baker). He argues that what identifies Moses' humility is not meekness but rather his dependence on God. …

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