Hubris: in Scripture and today


Scripture: 2 Kings 5: 1-14, Nigel Bunce

We see hubris in action in today’s Scripture story of Namaan’s leprosy.  Namaan thought that the prophet Elisha should have shown him more respect.  In our world, we see hubristic attitudes in Germany’s decisions about its energy supplies. And also in North America’s continued use of food crops to produce biofuels in the face of world hunger.


Hubris: what a great word! It combines insolence and arrogance. Exaggerated pride or overconfidence. The idea of hubris originated in ancient Greek theatre.  Where a mortal person’s lack of respect of human limitations led to the gods giving the mortal his come-uppance.

We see hubris in action in Namaan. There, the background to the story is the ancient world’s phobia about skin disease. Generically, they fell under the term leprosy. Therefore Namaan would lose his army position.  He’d have to go to a leper colony.

So Namaan pulled all the strings he could. His king gave him a “letter of introduction” to the king of Israel. He took a whole load of gifts to try to seal the deal. Eventually he went to the home of the prophet Elisha.  He begged Elisha to cure his disease.  However, Elisha only sent a servant, who told him to go and wash seven times in the River Jordan.

Namaan’s hubris

Namaan was highly insulted. Because he was an important man. Surely, Elisha could at least have given him a personal audience. Besides, the River Jordan is in reality a muddy little stream that drains a semi-arid area into the Dead Sea. Therefore, if his leprosy cure required bathing, he could bathe in better rivers back home.

Worse, Namaan’s servants called out his hubris. They said he was unreasonable. If Elisha had asked him to do something more difficult, he would surely have done so. Namaan was angry! Imagine his servants challenging him that way. However, eventually he did what Elisha told him. His skin became clean again. It was a miraculous cure.

Recent examples of hubris: 1. German gas supplies

I saw hubris in action in two recent articles by the Globe & Mail ‘s correspondent Eric Reguly.

First, Europe has ultra-high natural gas prices and faces actual shortages this winter. But don’t just blame Russia. The heart of the matter is German hubris.

Successive German Chancellors Schroder and Merkel decided to go for broke on Russian gas. They figured that Vladimir Putin needed them more than they needed him. The Nordstream gas pipeline supplies 40% of German gas needs, so they shut down their fleet of nuclear reactors. So not only is Germany largely funding Russia’s war on Ukraine. Putin can shut off the taps and laugh at their discomfort. Arrogance – thy name is hubris. 

Recent examples of hubris: 2. North American biofuel subsidies

However, the other issue strikes even closer to home. 40% of North American crop-land grows the grains to make the biofuel ethanol. Like Nordstream in Germany, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Grain prices were low. Although I always argued that it was and is immoral to turn food into motor fuel. Especially because ethanol is a lower grade fuel than gasoline. It’s nothing more than an agricultural subsidy.

Reguly wrote (June 17): “The UN’s World Food Programme estimates the number facing “acute food insecurity” has doubled to 276 million since 2019 and that almost 50 million “are facing emergency levels of hunger.”

The midst of a food crisis – one with no end in sight – is no time for the West to boost biofuel mandates. The world needs less ethanol and other biofuels for cars and more food for humans. Any government that thinks otherwise is morally bankrupt.” So, are you listening, Mr. Trudeau? Mr. Biden? Do you care?