This article discusses everyday humiliation everyone faces. Humiliation caused by abuse and neglect is another matter entirely; this latter humiliation cannot be attended to by this article.
Of all human experience, humiliation is one we perhaps most avoid. It has pangs of pungent shame about it, contorting us toward destruction. When we think about humiliation we easily connect it with Jesus’ last hours, when he was betrayed, tried unjustly, scourged, insulted, and finally crucified.
Fortunately our humiliations are not as bad as Jesus’ were, but they affect us most profoundly. But could it be that humiliation is a test?
“Accept whatever befalls you,
and in times of humiliation be patient.
For gold is tested in the fire,
and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.”
~Sirach 2:4-5 (NRSV)
This wisdom of Ecclesiasticus, like proverbs, was given to a child—probably a son. It aligns biblically with James 1:2-4, 12-16. These are hard words. And they go against the grain and the flow of the reptilian brain, which wants to react submissively or aggressively in the case of threat.
If we believe that God is behind all things, and this is a theology many struggle with, and rightly so, we can entertain the fact that humiliation isn’t the end of matters. That it may have a purpose.
Rethinking things is about keeping an open mind and an open heart on the things that God may be doing.
Rethinking humiliation might be about understanding Job. He blessed the name of the Lord for the fact that God both gives and takes away (Job 1:21); this is a shrill reality. Our challenge is, can we bless the Lord, like Job did, disregarding whatever happens in our lives? That is a tall order for anyone. And, of course, Job stumbled in accepting his humiliations—as we all will.
Believing In Humiliation’s Purpose
It’s important we believe that humiliation has a purpose, because it’s a fact we will be humiliated. More appropriately, we will feel humiliated. Life has a way of putting us in furnace situations. Besides, some days are doomed before they start; we wake up in an anxious disposition and these days don’t improve. When both situations collide—a furnace circumstance and our weakness—we can easily experience humiliation.
Perhaps the only solution for times of humiliation is the wisdom to remain humble and to draw whatever learning can be drawn. To believe God has a purpose in these things means we don’t resent God (or others) for circumstances that will most certainly occur to us at some time or other.
But there is a more important purpose, and it comes down to this overcoming life that Jesus talks about in John 16:33. If we believe that the Lord has overcome the world already, courage is accessible, and we can be people who overcome our humiliations.
Bearing a humiliating experience in humility, like Jesus did, brings glory to God.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Graphic Credit: Painting Life, Humble Trapper.