Humility vs Humiliation
By Don Umphrey
(with scriptural citations from the NIV)
The words humble and humility are discussed in the Bible as positive traits, but they are sometimes confused with humiliation which could occur to a person lacking in humility.
The confusion comes from the fact that all three words emanate from the same Latin root, humilis. which means low.
Mental health counselor Sam Louie writes, “My clients tell me they are trying to have a “humble” mindset, but the words I hear are those of humiliation. In other words, they may use self-loathing language to shame themselves into thinking and believing they are despicable, wretched, and worthless.”
He continues, “True humility isn’t about humiliating or castigating oneself as being the scum of the earth. Instead, it’s about seeing yourself as no better or no worse than your fellow man. Humility is to keep one grounded and free from arrogance, pride, and haughtiness. From a spiritual perspective, it’s seeing yourself as “low” in comparison to God.”1
Thoughts of Self
A well-known quote on this topic comes from Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.
According to groundfloormedia.com, actions that reveal humility include recognizing your own shortcomings and limitations and appreciating others' strengths, giving credit where it's due.2
Step Seven of the 12 steps to recovery formulated by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous addresses humility in this way: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Following is what I wrote about Step Seven in 12 Steps to a Closer Walk with God: The Workbook, Third Edition:
“When we indulged in our Step One problem, we were full of self-will and self-centeredness. Having completed the first six steps, we now have a different attitude--not only about ourselves, but about our Heavenly Father. This is important as we ask God to remove our shortcomings.
“Some have debated the differences between the “defects of character” mentioned in Step Six and the “shortcomings” of Step Seven. There is really no need, because they are one and the same. They are things that separate us from God and make us less effective in our dealings with others. The defects become clear to us in Step Four, and we confess them in Step Five. In Step Six we became willing to let God remove them and to live our lives without them.
Working Step Seven
“Now in Step Seven, we ask God to remove them.
“How will we ask God? Through prayer--humbly. That is the key to this step.
“It is with humility that we approach God. We're humbled because we now have a much deeper understanding of God's might, majesty and omniscience. We compare what we think we can accomplish to what God can do, and it is a humbling experience.
“We ask God to remove our shortcomings. We know that we can't remove them on our own, because we lack the power. But God can because He has all power.
“If we do not understand the word “humble,” we will misunderstand this step and misunderstand God as well.
“What the word may bring to mind is the cowering dog that has been beaten by its master. Having been humiliated, it approaches people and other animals with its tail between its legs. You know people who act this way.
“If we think of God as a cruel, vengeful master who can hardly wait to send us to eternal damnation, it is understandable why we could confuse humility with humiliation.
“According to the dictionary, humiliation results from an individual having his or her dignity hurt. The word “mortify” is used in conjunction with this definition. On the other hand, the definition of “humble” sounds as if it were written for Step Seven: “having or showing a consciousness of one’s defects; modest.”4
“Who is the person who does not recognize his or her defects of character? It is the person who is still in denial and acting on self-will rather than God’s will. It is the person with pride in the negative sense of the word. It is a person not ready for Step Seven.
“When we think about humility, we recognize who we are; we recognize who God is; and we are awed by the difference.”
Humility in the Bible
Of course, the Bible is full of passages relating to this topic. Following are a few of them:
“Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
Copyright 2023 by Don Umphrey
All rights reserved.
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1. Sam Louie, Psychology Today Blog: The Difference Between Humility and Humiliation.
3. Don Umphrey, 12 Steps to a Closer Walk with God: The Workbook, 3rd Edition, Quarry Press, Dallas, TX, 2018, p. 101.
4. Webster’s New World Dictionary, Popular Library, New York, 1973, p. 281.