Meekness: gentle strength, artwork by ibclare.deviantart.com
What is to be made of the current social strife in the US? By some accounts, the unrest is approaching dangerous levels. Nationally syndicated radio talk show host, columnist, author, and public speaker Dennis Prager calls it America’s Second Civil War. A Rasmussen poll earlier this month indicates that For Voters, Obama’s Legacy Is A More Divided America. Exactly half of likely U.S. voters “believe America is a more divided nation after the eight years of the Obama presidency. Just 22% think the United States is a less divided country now, while slightly more (25%) feel the level of division is about the same.”
“Why does it matter?” some might ask. “There’s always tension when a new president takes office.” But it does matter. The health and future of a nation is tied to, among other things, the level of peace vs. unrest. History indicates that nations rot from the inside. In fact, a nation cannot be defeated from the outside until it has decayed from within. Nations that live in the moral and metaphysical framework that supports a free, just, and equitable society will remain strong.
The ultimate solution for social struggles—in the US or in any nation—will not be found by social engineering, stronger policing or better education. Only the moral and spiritual development of individuals and communities can achieve social peace. In fact, true social peace—as well as moral and spiritual development—is only possible because of the cross. Jesus’ death provided for the reconciliation of all things (Col. 1:20).
Lasting social peace awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the full expression of His kingdom. But that is not to say that nothing is be done in the meantime. He calls His followers to participate in the already-not yet kingdom. One way we do that is by living virtuous lives.
In a previous post we listed seven key virtues: meekness, repentance, prayer, hope, joy, righteousness, and self-control. The book of Proverbs repeatedly points to these as key virtues for social, moral and spiritual development. In a brief series of blog posts we will consider each of these in turn, beginning with meekness.
Is meekness equivalent to weakness?
Meekness is often mistaken as a synonym for its rhyme, weakness. That would make meekness the opposite of strength. But this cannot be, of course, given that one Person was both meek and powerful.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart. (Mat 11:29, KJV)
And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:36 ESV)
Meekness is a dimension of gentleness, of courtesy. Recall Jesus touching a leper in compassion (Mark 1:41). Lepers were considered untouchable. Jesus had healed at a distance (see Luke 7:3-10); he certainly could have healed the man without touching him. He showed tender gentleness—meekness—by going out of his way to make physical contact with an unclean leper.
Remember Jesus speaking in terms of endearment to a pre-teen girl just deceased (Luke 8:54), taking her by the hand and saying, Okay, sweetheart, time to get up! No fanfare, no theatrics, just a “simple” resurrection act effortlessly performed in meekness. And how about the time Jesus, in the company of two unnamed disciples, arrived at their home village and “acted as if” he was going further rather than assume an invitation (Luke 24:28).
True strength and meekness are intimate friends, not strangers.
Another good example from history is the code of chivalry from the knights of the Middle Ages. They were known for their fierce aspect toward villains combined with a gentle courtesy toward the weak.
Meekness is related to humility. The Hebrew term means “humble, modest, i.e., pertaining to humility and lack of pretentiousness or pride.” We get some further light on the meaning by consulting Webster, which has the following entry:
Softness of temper; mildness; gentleness; forbearance under injuries and provocations.
In an evangelical sense, humility; resignation; submission to the divine will, without murmuring or peevishness; opposed to pride, arrogance and refractoriness. Galatians 5:23.
Meekness is a grace which Jesus alone inculcated, and which no ancient philosopher seems to have understood or recommended.
Webster closes his definition of meekness with an echo of our point about social peace: “Without a humble imitation of the divine author of our blessed religion, we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
Of course the opposite of humility, or meekness, is pride. Many people have never considered that pride was the first sin in creation. First, the devil himself, and then the human, fell into the sin of pride. The prophet Isaiah pictures the former in the picture of the king of Babylon.
How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:4-14 ESV).
Apologist and Oxford professor C.S. Lewis made a powerful observation about pride:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.
In the Hebrew Old Testament, the adjective form means “proud, haughty, i.e., pertaining to an undue arrogance as a moral failure.” Webster’s 1827 dictionary indicates the meaning as, “having inordinate self-esteem; possessing a high or unreasonable conceit of one’s own excellence, either of body or mind …. Arrogant; haughty.”
A humble spirit in leaders sets the tone for meekness, and the resulting peace, in the society. And in the community. And in the church. Christ followers should be the first to example, as the apostle Paul did, “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”
from a forthcoming book
 צָנוּעַ (ṣā∙nûaʿ)
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Harper One, 1952), 121.