Self-esteem is a big concern for many people. Let’s take a look at what humanism and Christianity have to offer.
I will never cease to be amazed at the marvels of the universe. In that entire universe there is one marvel that exceeds anything else, and that is the human mind. The mind can conceive of the smallest electron and of distant galaxies. It can understand and appreciate beauty and virtue. It has designed great bridges, cured dreaded diseases, and written great poetry. I love the human mind. You and I have human minds, and this gives us each an intrinsic worth.
We are the product of millions of years of evolution. That process has not been pretty, that is true. Billions of creatures have tried to pass along their genes, and have failed. But your ancestors did not fail. You come from a long line of creatures that has survived enormous odds to create you. You descended from a line of winners. So it seems to me that you too must be a winner.
There is an essential goodness to human nature. When we humans are exposed to a loving environment, and are encouraged to develop critical thinking skills, we almost always learn to respond in cooperative ways, in ways that are considered to be good.
No, not everyone turns out good, but there is always that spark of humanness. There is always the human mind inside the worst criminal, a mind that wants to succeed, a mind that could somehow learn that it could best meet its goals when it lives in cooperation with others. And so, although we may hate what the person has done, we can still have high regard for the worth of the individual.
“Wherefore I abhor myself,” says Job, “and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) Oh, excuse me, Job. Do you not realize what a wonderful thing it is to be human? “I abhor myself,” says Job. Oh. And what does God think of this response? Job 42 makes it clear that God approved of Job’s statement. But should we really abhor ourselves?
“And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled;” says Ezekiel, “and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.” (Ezekiel 20:43) And Ezekiel writes as though this self-loathing is a good thing. Thanks for the help, Ezekiel. But this is not doing much for my self-esteem.
Perhaps Jesus can shed some light on this. Well, he said, “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.'” (Luke 17:10) We are unprofitable? We only do our assigned duty? That doesn’t do much for our self esteem, does it?
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;” says Isaiah, “and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) The best we can do is filthy rags? Are we really that bad?
Tell me, would you read the following verses to a depressed person?
- There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
- They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
- Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
- Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
- Their feet are swift to shed blood:
- Destruction and misery are in their ways:
- And the way of peace have they not known:
- There is no fear of God before their eyes.
- Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Romans 3:11-19)
Do we really need a book to make us feel guilty?
It is no wonder that the church has historically rejected self-esteem teaching. John Calvin, for instance, said “But I require only that, laying aside the disease of self-love and ambition, by which he is blinded and thinks more highly of himself than he ought, he rightly recognize himself in the faithful mirror of Scripture.” Self-love is a disease? Oh dear. I think that John Calvin might be the laughing stock of the church if he tried to preach that message today.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing,” says Paul, “for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” (Romans 7:18) There is no good thing within you, Paul? I am sorry to hear that.
“Not I but Christ”
But wait, Paul’s message does not end there. “I have been crucified with Christ,” he states, “nevertheless I live. Yet not I but Christ liveth within me.” (Gal. 2:20) This changes everything. Not only does Paul speak of his natural self (which has “no good thing” in it) but he also refers to something new–“Christ in me”–which is capable of almost everything. We have gone from a most depressing view of humanity, to a totally exuberant view. Christ himself inside of a person? If true, is there no limit to what this might mean?
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” Paul declares. (Philippians 4:13) All things? That is amazing.
“For all things are yours,” Paul says in another place, “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23) Oh, please stop Paul. All things are yours? Can it get any better?
Is it any wonder that Christians sometimes act in a way that others interpret as arrogant? For their power comes from Christ himself inside of them–or so they believe. There is virtually no limit to what this power can do–provided their claim is true. The outsider, however, looks at the actions and sees hubris. Bill Cooke describes his experiences when he came to America and saw the religious claims. He describes fundamentalist Christians saying,
One can spit tacks at the world, make outrageous judgments, besmirch the integrity of anyone one disagrees with, and then expect the creator of the entire, fifteen-billion-year-old, multibillion-star universe to glow with pride at one’s achievements. While actually being hateful, ungracious, and petty, one can bask in the g