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The Urgency and Power of Humility

Jim Denison | Denison Forum | Monday, October 12, 2020
The Urgency and Power of Humility

The Urgency and Power of Humility


It was a news-filled weekend, as the Los Angeles Lakers won their seventeenth NBA title, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury that required surgery last night, and Hurricane Delta left four hundred thousand people without power yesterday. Now all eyes are on the Senate Judiciary Committee as it begins four days of hearings on President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court.

In her opening statement, Judge Barrett is expected to state that “the policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People.” She will add, “I believe Americans of all backgrounds deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written. And I believe I can serve my country by playing that role.”

In other words, Judge Barrett would serve on the Supreme Court as a means of serving the people it serves.

Across coming days (and years, if confirmed by the Senate), she will need to continue embracing this commitment to servant leadership. She is already being lauded by some as a “new feminist icon,” while others have attacked her family, faith, and views.

A breakthrough that is revolutionizing science

Judge Barrett would make history as only the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court in our nation’s history. Similar history was made recently by the first two women to share the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were honored for their work on the technology of genome editing. Their discovery is known as CRISPR-Cas9 “genetic scissors,” a way of making precise and specific alterations to the DNA contained in living cells. As biological chemist Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede noted, “The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionized the life sciences.”

This technology holds the potential to correct genetic defects in diseases such as cystic fibrosis, cataracts, and Fanconi anemia. It is also being used in the food and agriculture industries to engineer probiotic cultures, vaccinate industrial cultures against viruses, and improve crop yields, drought tolerance, and nutritional properties.

However, genetic editing could also produce unintended biological side effects. Its larger consequences are also difficult to predict: If used to sterilize malaria-spreading mosquitoes, for example, what wider ecological impact might this have?

And genetic engineering could produce traits that are inherited by succeeding generations. This could eradicate inherited diseases (which would bring its own larger consequences), but it could also be used eugenically to enhance inherited capacities.

All this to say, genome editing must be practiced within a commitment to accountability, humility, and service. Otherwise, its negative impacts could be catastrophic.

A brilliant book that explains our crisis

At the recommendation of a dear friend, I just finished reading Yuval Levin’s latest book, A Time to Build. With his usual brilliance, Levin diagnoses the conflicts, rancor, and despair of the present moment as a failure of leadership.

Historically, our cultural institutions—from government and military to media, education, business, religion, and civic groups—have served to mold the character of their members in line with their mission and values. Their leaders sought to serve the institution and its members and thus the greater good.

In recent years, however, leaders have come to see their institutions as platforms for personal advancement and status.

Government leaders have fallen victim to the cult of celebrity. Many in the media have sought to serve their personal “brands” through their reporting and visibility. Universities have become platforms for faculty and students to demand social changes aligned with their activistic agendas.

Business leaders have sought personal wealth and advancement to the detriment of their employees and society. Religious leaders, their authority undermined by clergy abuse scandals and personal ambition, have become celebrities rather than shepherds.

Social media is exacerbating the problem. Rather than molding us through engagement with contrary positions and experiences, it exposes us only to news and opinions with which we agree. It then serves as a platform for trumpeting our personal opinions and seeking as many followers and likes as possible.

Even the family, once the foundational institution for molding character, has been redefined as anything we wish it to be. We have become consumers who then use our choices with regard to gender and sexuality as platforms for personal expression.

The path from poverty to power

While I admire Yuval Levin’s intellectual gifts and appreciate his diagnosis of our crisis, I have less confidence in his solutions. He urges us to repledge ourselves to institutions that constrain our behavior, shape our character, and provide structure that forms positive habits. And he urges our leaders to repledge themselves to service and humility by asking themselves, “Given my position here, how should I behave?”

These are vital solutions, to be sure, but I do not believe humans have the capacity to choose them consistently or successfully. Here is where Levin, an observant Jew, needs what Christianity alone offers: a daily experience with the empowering Spirit of God.

Our society needs people characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But these are the “fruit” of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), not the product of self-reliant effort. They are the result of being “filled” or controlled each day by the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:18).

They manifest themselves when we admit our spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3) and choose to surrender ourselves to God as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), asking his Spirit to conform us to the character of Christ (Romans 8:29).

When we do, he uses us and the institutions through which we serve to advance his kingdom (Matthew 6:33) for our good.

Are you submitted to the Spirit of God today?

Publication date: October 12, 2020

Photo courtesy: ©Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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The Urgency and Power of Humility