Hab 2:4a; “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him.”
I recently took a family holiday that had me spending a fortnight back home in the North-East of England. Going back to see my family, eating a ton of mainly bland savory foods along with as much chocolate and candy I can inhale before my cheeks turn a pale shade of green is always a highlight for me. Being in the English countryside surrounded by sheep, cows and horses that roam the undulating vibrant green hills that are occasionally peppered with churches that are often over one thousand years old; seems to cultivate a tranquil environment unlike any other. One of my favorite things to do is to visit these old churches and walk around their graveyards and walk their naves. Whether it is surveying the weather-beaten-tombs outside or the glorious masonic craftsmanship inside, you can’t help but be filled with a sense of awe.
It was on one of these outings that I visited Durham Cathedral. This is my home county cathedral that stands high above the city that has a rich history of around one thousand years. County Durham, the place of this magnificent structure is known as the “Land of the Prince Bishops”. Such was its seat of power in the 7th, 8th and 9th Century, one of its later bishops said: “There are two kings in England, namely the Lord King of England, wearing a crown in sign of his regality and the Lord Bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown, in sign of his regality in the diocese of Durham.” Having ‘Prince Bishops’ enthroned such as Aldhun, Antony Bek, Thomas Hatfield and N.T. Wright, the Diocese of County Durham has always carried ecclesiastical influence in England.
On this particular visit as I walked down the nave, through the quire and onto the altar, my attention was brought to the ‘Bishop’s Throne’. This is a chair that has its own staircase and is situated above the quire, where the choir would sing with the accompaniment of the largest organ I have ever seen. This throne (in terms of altitude) is the highest throne in all of Christendom. My sense of ‘wow’ and ‘awe’ were quickly replaced with a sense of dread. I now found myself standing in one of the greatest cathedrals in all of Europe, which has been a seat of power and self-rule, a place where the remains of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede are housed and that has a library that has three copies of Magna Carta. Scriptures of self-exaltation and pride started to flood my heart. Oh, the dangers that will destroy a man, a place or city when it exalts itself.
I was reminded of a man called Diotrephes in the Third Letter of John. A man who loved to have preeminence amongst men. He loved to be first. He was the kind of man that would not sit at the lowliest seat at a table and wait to be called up to a greater seat; but would take the seat of honor at a feast, even if it was reserved for someone more distinguished than himself. In a time where self-promotion is expected, let us not elevate ourselves. Let us not make for ourselves high and exalted thrones to sit in. Some heights are asphyxiating….
Jesus said this; “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”