Freedom of Expression in a Photoshop World

We Hunger for Humility

Because of all the overstatement and shameless hype, all the facades, all the smoke and mirrors, there is indeed a hunger in our generation, perhaps like never before, for humble, honest, Christ-exalting understatement. For modesty of speech.

We yearn for understatement, because there is so little access to it. We ache for it from others—and yet we find ourselves utterly unable to produce it. Having been conditioned by the confetti of commercials, the posturing of politics and the insecurities of social media, we cannot bring ourselves to do for others what we so desperately long for ourselves.

But we shouldn’t be surprised that nonbelievers are left to deal in the counterfeit currency of endless exaggeration. Without Christ as the Great Security—the “surety,” as the Puritans loved to say—how will we have the humility to leave our language at understatement?

Understatement in the Bible

It is humility, after all, that goes hand in hand, and is the source, of true understatement. Understatement, as a figure of speech, has long had the technical title “tapeinosis,” which is Greek for humility. It is humble to understate something and allow your listener to experience the rare joy of discovering that something is more moving than was claimed. And it’s humble to understate things such that some listeners may never know the full force of it—because you are secure enough to have it go unacknowledged.

The Bible uses hyperbole, no doubt. But we are in a society so flooded with hyperbole, that understatement is what sticks out today as so counter-cultural, and so desperately needed—not just the surface expressions, but the humble heart that lies beneath them.

How refreshing to hear the psalmist pray, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Not despise. Yes, that and so much more. Experience the joy of tasting the more.

Or to hear the apostle Paul, doubtless one of the greatest to ever live, say in all sincerity, with manifest humility, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9).

Or when he writes of “this light, momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.

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