In the ancient world, excessive pride or hubris was a prominent feature in classical tragedy. For instance, in Homer’s Iliad the great, mythical conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon was borne out of the deep seated arrogance that permeated both men. Of course hubris is not just a relic of the past, but is characteristic of every age. That is because every child of Adam from the moment of conception is infected with this disease, and its symptoms are more or less evident throughout the whole of human experience. No one is immune. None is righteous, no, not even one! (Ro 3:10).
Take for example the shocking display of hubris in the life of Herod Antipas. After delivering an oration arrayed in his imperial regalia, the Caesareans shouted, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22). How foolish he was to welcome this false acclaim! How excessively proud he was to withhold honor from God. In the end, it was hubris that led to his gruesome demise. An angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms (Acts 12:23).
Contrast this with the Paul’s experience in Lystra. As he was preaching, a man lame from birth was listening and had faith to be healed. With a penetrating stare Paul looked at him and said, “Stand upright on your feet” (Acts 14:10). When the cripple sprang to his feet, the Lystrians shouted, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11). Noteworthy was the influence of grace in Paul’s heart. The temptation was great, but he refused to accept their idolatrous praise. Unlike Herod, he knew himself to be but a sinful creature infinitely beneath the dignity of his Creator.
As the wise man warns, Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prv 16:18). Hubris plagues every human being to one degree or another. It is something with which we all must struggle. It reveals itself in countless ways across all walks of life. Its ugly symptoms can be traced back to that original, diabolical, criminal desire to be like God (Gen 3:5). The natural man like Herod welcomes the applause. The spiritual man like Paul knows the truth. With an enlightened mind he realizes that he is of like nature with the rest of fallen humanity. It is a humbling insight. But he also brings good news about turning from such vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them (Acts 14:15). Amazingly, this living God holds out terms of amnesty to guilty rebels who are willing to lay down their hubris and humbly embrace the Lord Jesus Christ by faith. Under the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, through the justifying virtue of saving faith, one may display genuine humility reflecting the character of Christ. Only then may he truly become like God.