Through much of my schooling years, I recall being taught to take pride in my work and my school. Today, advertisers bombard us with images showing how their product was manufactured with great pride by the company’s workers doing their job with precision and a smile. Here’s another familiar message: you can only be a true fan of a sports team when you show pride in your team (and you do that by purchasing their officially-licensed merchandise). We are regularly taught to have pride.
And “pride” as we use the word can be a good thing if it motivates you to do a better job raising your family, at your occupation, or appearance. However, pride has a second (more accurate) meaning that we prefer to avoid. Pride means we rely on ourselves, we have confidence in our own abilities to a fault. It is the opposite of humility, and it can have disastrous consequences.
We see this in Obadiah, where we learn that the pride of the Edomites was their downfall. The people of Edom gloated, rejoiced, and boasted about the besieging of Jerusalem. It was prophesied they would pay and they did. The pride of the Edomites led to their extinction.
Recently, I read an article about missions work in Japan, a nation often known throughout history for their pride. Unfortunately, the most memorable displays in American history of that pride involve kamikaze fighter pilots, fulfilling their mission and bringing great pride to their emperor and country.
Japan doesn’t meet the usual criteria for most mission projects. It doesn’t appear to be overrun with poverty. Its government is stable. There’s not an extremist organization threatening and killing Christians. So why Japan? Based on the article, the Japanese represent the second largest unreached people group in the world. I never would’ve guessed it.
Long-term missionaries face a battle when they get there because it takes years to learn the language and the culture; both are very different from our western counterparts. Missionaries also face a financial burden living in an expensive country. Spiritual obstacles exist as many claim no religion but practice Buddhist or Shinto rituals, ancestor worship, and even idolatry in temples.
Without Christ, one of the biggest crises Japan faces is its high suicide rate, ranking 14th in the world. The cultural expectations of getting married, holding a single job for an entire career, and providing for a family have made suicide the leading cause of death among men age 20-44. The pride/shame balance in maintaining all of these life roles has lifted the bar high. An aging population and low birth rates add to the pressure. (It is estimated by 2055, half of the Japanese will be retired and collecting a pension.)
Encouragingly, all these societal factors are no match against the power of the Lord. The next time you pray, say a prayer for the people in Japan to humbly hear the gospel, become curious, and ultimately pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ.