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Margaret Atwood on Meekness


The Adult Bible Study Guide kicks off its focus on meekness from the central sermon of Jesus: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5, NKJV). The lesson itself defines meekness as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.” Throughout the week, it draws on stories of Moses and Jesus dealing with trying circumstances. Instances include when Moses is criticized by his sister Miriam or by the Isrealites; he responds with selflessness. Of course, Jesus is the perfect model for meekness. The ABSG states: 

Jesus says that His Father sends the blessing of rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous; if God gives even the unjust rain, how then should we treat them? Jesus isn’t trying to say that we should always have warm, fuzzy feelings toward everyone who causes us trouble, though this also may be possible. Fundamentally, love for our enemies is not meant to be a feeling we have for them but specific actions toward them that reveal care and consideration.

Rounding out the week’s focus on the interpersonal, the lesson offers a helpful reminder for dealing with interpersonal strife, particularly when someone is being, well, a jerk. 

So often the most proud people, the most arrogant and pushy, are those who suffer from low self-esteem. Their arrogance and pride—and total lack of meekness or humility—exist as a cover, perhaps even unconsciously, for something lacking inside. What they need is something we all need: a sense of security, of worthiness, of acceptance, especially in times of distress and suffering. We can find that only through the Lord. In short, meekness and humility, far from being attributes of weakness, are often the most powerful manifestation of a soul firmly grounded on the Rock.

Writing for Sojourners a few years ago, Margaret Atwood aims to translate these concepts into our contemporary existence.

Being Canadian, I memorized the beatitudes at school. But I wondered whether “the meek” had to be people. Could they be some other life form? Scottish physiologist J.S. Haldane felt God shows an inordinate fondness for beetles—having created so many—and my own father speculated that, if humankind destroyed itself by nuclear bombs or otherwise, the earth would be inherited by cockroaches. That would explain everything!

But the opposite of “meek” is surely “proud,” and pride goeth before a fall. Perhaps the meek will inherit when the proud become top-heavy and topple over, as in the reversals of fortune that accompany revolutions. Many of the beatitudes propose place-changing: Those who are up will be down, and vice versa. Is this a warning to the one percent to stop hoarding and start sharing?

For more of Margaret Atwood, this time on religion and a meek role for government, here is an interview she did with Bill Moyers for his Faith and Reason PBS series. 


Alexander Carpenter is executive editor of Spectrum

Title image: Pompeo Batoni, Meekness, 1752 (public domain)

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