There is pride, and then there is PRIDE. On the one hand, a prideful person is thought of as someone who thinks very highly of himself, who is “puffed up,” who makes others feel inferior, etc. I think, though, that there is an even more dangerous sort of pride, pride coram Deo, which is often more subtle than the other kind. I would define it as a lack of awareness that one has any sins for which to repent. This is more dangerous because even a prideful person in the first instance may heartily lament the fact that he or she is “puffed up,” and strive to mortify that part of their sinful nature.
The one who lacks awareness of sin also, therefore, lacks a hunger for the forgiveness of sins. Here is the true Pharisee–a good person, but one who takes little joy in the medicine of the Gospel because he is not aware of anything against himself. He believes in Jesus. Even trusts in him. He looks for the return of Christ, confesses the resurrection of the dead, believes that baptism saves, that the body and blood of the Lord are received in the Lord’s Supper, and is otherwise an orthodox believer.
And yet there is that lack of a true hunger and thirst for a righteousness that he does not have. Peter Kreeft thinks that God allows people to fall into sin, or at least to experience anfechtung, temptation, and other trials in order that they might not fall into the even more serious sin of spiritual pride. I am inclined to agree with him on this. It’s not that God wants us to sin, nor does he himself tempt us. But He did allow Paul to suffer from a “thorn” and a “minion of Satan” to keep him from becoming “too elated.”
I don’t know if other pastors have felt this way, but one of the greatest temptations that we pastors face is spiritual pride, perhaps more so than others. We are handlers of holy things, peddlers of divine mysteries. We call others to repentance, we extol the saving benefits of the Sacrament, and yet when we give ourselves the saving medicine, do we do so with a keen awareness of our own need?
Not that we should ever give in to temptation, or be thankful for sin, but maybe we can be a little bit thankful to the Lord when He allows us to experience such things, for they keep us humble before Him, and always desiring of the medicine that we give to others. They are reminders that we too “always need the medicine,” that we too are dying sinners, who have not yet completely put off the old nature. To us, as well as his servant Paul, the Lord says: “My grace is sufficient for you.”