The Myth of Self-Esteem

One of the majorly destructive myths of US culture is that self-esteem needs to be built up to a healthy level. There are a few things patently wrong with this. Mostly, it leaves God out of the picture by assuming that we have the ability to do things in and of ourselves. Some Christian psychologists seem to re-define the term to fit a biblical view. This also bothers me because it results in misconceptions and smooths the path to acceptance of similary termed secular ideas, not to mention that I think they usually hit the middle rather than defaulting to a purely biblical viewpoint on the issue.

My alternative, although I feel the need to study this further and welcome you joining me, is that we need to fully understand our purpose in God as he has revealed it to us. In secular self-esteem, we hold the statements of others or our accomplishments (and lack thereof) as the basis for our understanding of our own worth. This, ultimately is placing others before God by relegating God’s opinion as just another statement among many, if at all.

So where do we find our worth? Simply, in the sacrifice God made for us. Jesus Christ willingly died for us and God allowed his only and perfect son to be killed. We are told that all heaven rejoices when one soul is saved.

Apparently, God thinks much of us and so should we. We are the only creation He has expressed such a connection with. Our worth comes from God’s pleasure in us, His plan for us, and His provision to meet that plan. From this I draw that when I look at myself and find anything that is worthy of esteem, I should direct that esteem towards the creator, God and not myself.

We are part of creation and so are an example of His handy work. Additionally, we are given special attention in creation. We have our own day and that doesn’t include the creation of our women. We are the only part of creation God gave such attention. I like to consider humanity as God’s masterpiece. This care trickles down into each of us individually.

Another aspect, to think poorly of ourself is to suggest that God was not a mastercraftsman in you and calls into question His sovreignty and perfection. To think to highly of ourselves is to consider ourselves greater than God. Additionally. we should remember our sin as we calculate, but also that this is negated beause Christ already cleared this sin. Again, an example that we are nothing without the sustaining power of God.

I have not done much to support this with chapter and verse as I consider the references to scripture to by general and commonly accepted. I would gladly find support in the event that something here peaks someone’s interest.

12 Comments

  1. Good point, Josiah. I think to a point self-esteem may be useful merely since as fallen creatures we seem to need it. Let someone’s self-esteem drop too low and you’ve got a bit of a problem (not that it needs to be really high, but you don’t want someone to fall into severe depression either). I think the key when trying to build someone’s self-esteem, though, may be to point out what you did — that this individual is worth everything to God. Not because of anything they’ve done or anything God expects them to do. Add this to the fact that God has a purpose for each and everyone of us and I think people will feel a lot better without having to give them a laurel wreath for good deeds.

    One question though, what does “We have our own day and that doesn’t include the creation of our women” refer to? I wasn’t quite sure how to read that.

  2. I’d say, here, that self-esteem also doesn’t apply, but in practice it is all very similar. We treat another well because they are the image of God. They mirror his glory. For the very same reason we should not take another’s life (again because of God’s creation not man). We are responsible for treating them in a way that reflects God’s pleasure in his creation of them, but I don’t think, in most cases, we are responsible to fix their issues but rather point out, as you said, God’s sovreignty in their life. Certainly, there are cases where we are even called to that, but we are not responsible for their response, but our obedience. We can so easily be dragged down by other people’s disobedience sometimes.

    As to your question, I was rather vague there, but my intention was to point out that man was created on or about the 8th day and left for some small period to handle things. Then woman was created after that day.

    Looking at it again, I’m not sure the validity of it and perhaps I need to go back and study this again. It may be that I assumed something in there that then got stuck in my head as fact and needs a bit more attention. Also could be that some preaching I heard seemed to make a good claim for this possibility and I, again, got it stuck in my head. Thanks for pointing that out. I certainly can’t make a strong argument.

    In the long run, it was just supporting detail to the point that God took/takes great care in creating us.

  3. The self-esteem bugaboo was a nightmare for me in public education. It’s a doctrine there that everyone has a right to a good self-esteem, even if it has to be artificially created. You end up with criminals who feel good about themselves. On a mere human level, self-esteem is rightly the result of accomplishment, though a strong but failing effort tends to be included as a sort of accomplishment. In Christ, we know that we accomplish only because of Him. Thus, I tend to see self-esteem as less a theological issue and more a mechanical issue of human nature. A sense of self-worth is actually not the same thing in the human psyche as self-esteem, though the two overlap a great deal. I might say that self-esteem is more ephemeral and close to the surface, whereas self-worth is more of substance.

  4. Thanks for your contrast between self-esteem and self-worth.

    You give me something to think about, certainly in your dividing out self-esteem as a mechanical issue, but I think we must understand the mechanical from a biblical view. Meaning, though it be effective to understand people from this point, it leads to errors and is not the purest understanding of the word. I feel, and this is certainly an opinion that you are welcome to challenge, that it does not respresent the purest understanding of humanity as presented in scripture. Rather, it is basing our understandings on observation, rather than the more dependable scripture. Certainly we agree, that man is fallible and bent towards error in interpretation of observation.

    Anyway, there’s a little something to stimulate further discussion.

  5. You missed the thrust of my comment. Scripture certainly covers emotions, and properly informs our psychology. Scripture teaches that feelings come and go, and seldom indicate much of lasting value, unless you analyze what they say about our human flaws. Individual emotions are of little lasting value for indicating whether we are doing right or wrong; they are the flags of deeper, more substatial events. Thus, I give little weight to emotions in that sense. Self-esteem, for many purposes, is no more than an emotional state. It’s just part of what humans feel, and to spend too much time on the issue is wasted effort. It’s a red herring.

    When I counsel someone, I ask how they “feel” about some things in pointed and exhaustive detail, because most people don’t really know how they feel about things, with conflicting feelings all knotted up. Once we get that part of the problem cleared up, then we move on to what the feelings signal. The Biblical view is that they aren’t of themselves any great moment, except as a wall to break down on the way to truth. Thus, it’s a mere “mechanical issue.”

  6. Ah, I see what you were saying. I hadn’t really thought of self-esteem and its relation to emotions much aside from its effect on emotion. Indeed it is also affected by emotion and thus the easy spiral up or down to unhealthy estimations of ones importance.

  7. I just caught a debate between Michael Horton and Robert Schuller (Crystal Cathedral) and they forayed into the self esteem issue. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from Schuller’s standpoint! I found some quotes on the Internet from him, so I haven’t 100% verified them, but I believe they are accurate:

    “Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem” (Schuller, Self-Esteem, p. 14).

    “And what is ‘hell’? It is the loss of pride that naturally follows separation from God–the ultimate and unfailing source of our soul’s sense of self-respect” (Schuller, Self-Esteem, p. 14).

    “To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image–from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust” (Schuller, Self-Esteem, p. 68).

    “Jesus never called a person a sinner” (Schuller, Self-Esteem, p. 100).

    “Christ is the Ideal One, for he was Self-Esteem Incarnate” (Schuller, Self-Esteem, p. 135).

    ———

    This shows the problem with postmodernism creeping into the church, and the nonsense that proceeds. We are a self-centered people concerned about our self-esteem. Why do we need a savior if we feel good about ourselves? Thanks for calling a spade a spade Josiah!

    PS: I highly recommend the debate between Schuller and Horton. Gets tense a few times. For a limited time only you can download the debate after giving a donation of any size at http://www.whitehorseinn.org.

  8. Not surprising, Paul, and I for one appreciate your addition to the discussion. Would believe a Christian “Heavy Metal” band slammed Schuller for his New Age nonsense? They didn’t name him, but mentioned Crystal Cathedral and how Satan loved to spend time there.

  9. Yeesh, how can smart men be so clearly off their rocker and still have people listen to them!? Amazing! Thanks for your additions Paul. That was some good stuff and highlighted that though we may discuss differences in the intricate details, we largely believe the same thing.

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