Here are words on humility from the Old Testament Book of Sirach (3:20),that give me pause:“What is too sublime for you, seek not; into things beyond your strength search not ... for what is hidden is not your concern.”
The sweep of these words halts me in my tracks. There is unquestionably in me a longing and an urge to seek what is too sublime for me. It would seem that Sirach is telling me that humility suggests I stop this. I eagerly conduct various quests for that which is beyond my strength and, again, Sirach advises that to do so struggles against humility. Things hidden are of great concern to me. They drive my seeking. Yet, these Old Testament words recommend, in the name of humility, abandoning such activity.
When we pursue knowledge of science, the arts, politics, or economics are we transgressing the bounds of humility? Is seeking knowledge contrary to this virtue? And, if not, what does Sirach mean? It would seem, according to Sirach, that God is too sublime for us to comprehend. God’s ways are beyond our strength to grasp, so don’t bother searching them out. What is divine is hidden, therefore should be of no concern to us. Doing otherwise, it would seem, smacks of pride.
I think there is both truth and naiveté in Sirach’s words. The dross attached to our quest is that we usually embrace it as “ours” without much thought of everyone else being in a similar condition. There is also the easily accepted but erroneous pride we attach to our own searching and seeking as though ours wasthe true one-way track. It is this subtle exclusivity that renders our quest less than humble.
On the other hand, to not seek You out or search for things known to be sublime hints at apathy. What we love, we pursue – even if we never fully understand it. I do not think You would want us to throw in the towel because we will never grasp You. Rather, You beckon and invite us to seek You knowing full well all our human shortcomings.