We live in a day in which understatement is an endangered species. We have no shortage of embellishment and exaggeration. Public communication is awash in grandiose claims. Parties, events, releases, political rallies must be bigger and better than the last.
In our society of hype and hyperbole, pomp and posturing, we create our own online profiles in a matter of minutes, select our most flattering photo, highlight our most impressive accomplishments, and then fill our timeline with the confirming data. We are experiencing (not to overstate it) an epidemic of over-promising and under-performing. Few of us have the humility to report on our lives and experiences with simplicity and truth.
Sadly, we Christians too often fall prey to this cultural pressure. This Sunday, this conference, this study, this message must be more “epic” (talk about exaggeration) than the last. Such a penchant is perhaps especially acute in church planting and other ministry startups, when our collective insecurities and immaturities conspire to make it feel like everything needs to sound better than it actually is, to make us seem stronger than we truly are, to give the impression we have momentum and staying power, when really we feel powerless deep down, and gnawingly uncertain.
Why We Exaggerate
What our relentless over-the-top claims, and “holy” exaggerations, reveal is our deep-seated insecurities. Public speech, social media, and personal conversations have become opportunities to compensate for what we know is lacking.
It is the insecure artist who needs his next album to be better than the last, the insecure actor who needs this new role to surpass all the others, the insecure employee who needs to brag about his latest feat, the insecure mom who longs to demonstrate her kids are the cutest, the insecure pastor who needs to exaggerate about how great things are going — or forecast, with a humble air, how historic his particular ministry venture will prove to be. By the Spirit’s help, of course.
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.
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