True Humility

3rd July 2020

It seemed unlikely that anyone would be interested in watching someone insert numbers into a grid. Yet that’s what thousands of us did a couple of months ago when we watched Simon Anthony solve a ‘miracle’ Sudoku puzzle. The classic Sudoku puzzle involves putting the numbers 1 to 9 into a 9×9 grid. (If you want to know more, you can Google it!) What made this puzzle harder was that it began with only two numbers given, and he hadn’t seen the puzzle before. And so I spent 25 minutes watching him solve it live on his YouTube channel.

What made it even more compelling was his understated and yet excited commentary. As more and more numbers fell into place, he would exclaim with wonder: “It can’t be” or “You’re kidding.” As he began to see the beauty of the numerical patterns, he even said: “The universe is singing to us.” It struck me at the time, and then one person summed it up when they commented: “No part of him is impressed with himself for solving the puzzle, he is only impressed with the puzzle maker. True humility.” It’s true. There was no self-congratulation at all; in fact, he kept wondering whether he would be able to complete it. There was only praise for the puzzle’s creator.

Surely there’s a lesson for us here. We are full of praise for scientists and inventors, and rightly so. Many of them are real geniuses. Whoever discovers a vaccine for coronavirus will be rightly praised for their discovery (even if it will almost certainly be a team effort). Yet the pandemic has revealed our limitations, what we don’t know and what we’re not able to do: we couldn’t stop the virus spreading, more than half a million have died, and there’s still little sign of a vaccine.

I’m reminded of the story of Job. In four whirlwind chapters, God shows him the wonders of his creation – the things God knows and Job doesn’t, the things God can do and Job can’t. God asks him a series of searching questions, and we can insert the answers: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” I don’t know, but God does. “Who shut up the sea behind doors?” God, not Job. “Have you ever given orders to the morning?” No, but God does.

This gentle barrage of questions leads Job finally to admit: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know … My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job reaches the point where no part of him is impressed with himself. He is only impressed with the maker, his maker. True humility.

Chris Hobbs