Monday, March 2, 2009

pride (4) a short history of pride

Pride: to seek for yourself the glory and authority that belong to God, forgetting your dependence on him.*

If this is pride, then before humans were made, there was pride. Satan and his cohorts, bright and glorious angels, raised themselves against God, seeking his glory and power for themselves. They were cast out of heaven into the depths of hell (2 Pet 2:4, Jude 6 cf Isa 14:3-23, Ezek 28:1-19). But the fruit of devilish wisdom is still pride.

If this is pride, then the first sin on earth involved pride. Why did Adam and Eve rebel against God? Because the serpent promised they would become "like God" (Gen 3:4). They doubted God's true word, threw off his rightful authority, and set themselves up as mini-gods, masters of their own destiny. God ripped away their immortality by throwing them from the garden (Gen 3). But we still bear the proud likeness of our father Adam (Rom 5:12-21).

If this is pride, then it’s the main characteristic of humans when they get together. The Tower of Babel was supposed to be a grand monument to human achievement, built "so that we may make a name for ourselves" (Gen 11:4). God, of course, stepped in and showed just how much bigger he is than puny humanity: he scattered humans to the four corners of the earth, separated by different languages and cultures (Gen 11:1-9).

If this is pride, then it fuels all opposition to God and his people. Through the Bible there's a line of kings, obsessed by power and wealth, who want to throw off God’s rule and turn themselves into gods, to be worshipped and obeyed (Isa 14:3-23, Ezek 28:1-19): Pharaoh (Exod 5-15, 9:29-30), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 3-4), Sennacherib (Isa 36-37), Herod (Ac 12:19b-25). God laughs and scoffs at them, for they are puppets in his hands, to be raised up or cast down as he sees fit (Ps 2, 37, 73).

If this is pride, then it lies behind all the long history of God's people. Raised up from a single wandering herdsman (Gen 17), the smallest and most insignificant of nations (Deut 7:7-8), like a woman lying in her filth and chosen to be God’s bride (Ezek 16): there’s no reason for pride here. But God’s people continually become puffed up by their God-given blessings: they forget what God has done for them, turn to more easily manipulated gods, and refuse to submit to God’s word. He brings them low, they repent, he raises them up, and the cycle starts again (Neh 9).

If this is pride, then we are still guilty of it. Every time we try to earn God's grace, or doubt his love because we haven't lived up to it (Rom 4:2, 10:1-4, Eph 4:9). Every time we're motivated by envy and selfish ambition (Phil 2:3, Jam 3:14-16). Every time we quarrel (Prov 13:10, 1 Tim 6:3-5), show favouritism (Jam 2:1-12), oppress the weak (Isa 13:11, Ps 10:2, Ezek 16:49), or boast (1 Jn 2:16, Jude 16). Every time we become secure in our wisdom, beauty, wealth, or strength, and forget we are like wild flowers, here today and gone tomorrow (Jer 9:23-24, 1 Tim 6:17, Jam 1:9-11).

If this is pride, then it is time to humble ourselves before the Lord, for we are all guilty of pride. It is time to grieve, mourn and wail, to acknowledge our need for God's grace, and to seek his forgiveness, knowing that he is the one who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (Jam 4:1-10).

If this is pride.

* I took this definition from verses like Deut 8:14, 2 Chron 25:19, 32:25, 2 Kgs 19:22, Ps 10:4, Isa 37:23, Jer 9:23-24, 13:15, 17, Hos 13:6, and Neh 9:16, 29.

If you want to read more about the history of pride, you can view John Stott's excellent article "Pride, Humility and God" from Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality online at Google Books.

Images of statues are from stock.xchng; fresco of Adam and Eve is by Masaccio's fresco in the Santa Maria del Carmini church in Florence, Italy; "Tower of Babel" woodcut is by MC Escher; Israel poster is available from All Posters.


Simone R. said...

I think this post needs a comment.

I appreciated it.

Apart from that, I don't have anything to say.

Jean said...

I think this comment needs a comment.

I appreciated it.

Apart from that, I don't have anything to say. ;)

Seriously, it's interesting to notice which posts get comments and which don't, isn't it? Mostly they get comments if someone wants to say "me too!"; sometimes because there's an issue people want to help address. The more theological ones may be helpful for people (I hope!) but are always less comment-y; the ones reflecting on experience, especially if they touch a nerve, are always more comment-y.

Which is a long way of saying I really, really appreciate comments, because they're so encouraging, but I'm not heart-broken these days when they don't come.

I'm encouraged by your comment all the same. And it turns out I do have something to say. As always. ;)

Anna said...

Hi Jean,

I've only just come across your posting on pride and I wanted to say thank you for it. I find topical studies like yours so helpful in drawing together thoughts on a topic, without just reverting to our cultural norms- so easy to do when just looking at a few passages. It is encouraging to know how you did it too.

A while ago I was startled to find myself saying to my boy "I'm so proud of you", then thinking "God hates pride". What's going on there!

I also remember reading a book called "Humility" (I can't remember who by) that suggested that humility was at the heart of a right response to God and that pride embodied the heart of our sinful nature.

Any suggestions of more helpful words of encouragement for our children other than "I'm proud of you"?


Jean said...

Hi Anna,

Lovely to hear from you.

Paul actually does say he "takes pride" in his spiritual children e.g. 2 Cor 7:4, 8:24 - i.e. that he "exalts" or "boasts" in them. He also describes himself as "ambitious" for the gospel (Rom. 5:20). So there is an appropriate pride - one that is connected to God's work in people, rather than to selfish ambition.

So it may not be inappropriate to say "I'm proud of you" - especially if it's connected to a child standing up for Jesus, or loving their brother or sister!

Although it's good always to bring this back to God, so they don't become proud - maybe "That's a wonderful painting, isn't it great that God made you able to paint so beautifully?"

Or: "I thank God for you!" or: "I thank God for how he's working in you!"

It's good for kids to know we "exult" in them, especially in their graces but also in their gifts, because that's how they learn about God's affection for and exulting in us. We're their parents and that's how God's made families, as a small picture of his relationship with his people.

But it's also good for kids to know they have nothing they were not given - to give the glory back to God. Otherwise they will become proud and arrogant.

I say "I'm proud of you" to my kids sometimes, especially about qualities like love and courage, and I certainly praise my kids ("that was a great job! that's excellent work!"). I try to focus on qualities like "you worked really hard on that" but I also say "that's great". Probably too much at times! - I don't want them to become addicted to praise. I should probably bring it back to God more often - "Isn't it great that God ... ; I thank God that ... "

Thankyou for reminding me to glorify God and help my kids to glorify God as I talk to them about the gifts and graces they've been given.

The book might have been CJ Mahaney's "Humility: True Greatness"? It's a great book!

Love Jean.

Jean said...

Some more options ...

Paul says to his spiritual children, "you are my joy and crown" Phil 4:1 cf 1 Thess 2:19.

Children are the "crown" of their grandparents (and parents the "pride" of their children - so maybe they should be telling you they're proud of you!!!) - Prov 17:6.

Children are a "blessing" Ps 127:3-5, and a great "joy" and "delight" to their parents (Prov. 23:24-5 cf. 29:3).

So maybe you could say to your kids, "You are a great blessing to me", "You bring me great joy", "I thank God for making you who you are" - or simplest of all "I love you!" (I'm sure you've thought of that one!!).

This would make a great blog post, wouldn't it?! Great question! Have you got any other ideas of how to answer it?

Love Jean.

Anna said...

Hi Jean,

I suppose the difference between good pride and bad pride is that bad pride has that arrogant haughtiness about it, whereas good pride is when we delight in seeing someone do something that honours God. Maybe good pride even has a touch of humility in it (giving glory to God)!

Here's to good pride,

Jean said...

Hi Anna! Good to hear from you again.

"bad pride has that arrogant haughtiness about it" - yes, I think you're right, a kind of arrogant independence from God

"good pride is when we delight in seeing someone do something that honours God. Maybe good pride even has a touch of humility in it (giving glory to God)!" - yes, I agree, definitely "good pride" is humble - oddly enough!! - and focussed on the honour and glory of God.

I have learnt, whenever I'm tempted to feel proud of something I've done or am doing, to say to myself, "I have nothing that I was not given". This reminds me of the foolishness of pride (as if I was responsible for anything good in me!) and the importance of giving the glory back to God.