What the Bible Does Not Say About Self-esteem

Years ago, for reasons long forgotten, I searched through my Bible hunting for
passages to inspire self-esteem.  Perhaps I felt in need of a self-esteem boost myself or, more generously, maybe I had wanted to encourage someone else who was feeling worthless.  The only thing I do remember is that my search was fruitless.  Imagine my surprise to find that the Bible wasn’t written to make me feel better about myself!

Baby Boomer Theology

New York Times columnist David Brooks, in an insightful article, “It’s Not About You,” calls our cultural self-obsession and pursuit of self-esteem and meaningful self-expression “baby-boomer theology.”  He points out that such a view of life is misleading and backwards.  “Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.”  I sheepishly admit that I had unwittingly adopted such “baby-boomer theology.”

True Theology

The Bible corrected my error, not by what it said, but by what it never said.  The reason there is nothing in the Bible about self-esteem is because we were created in God’s image and for his glory.  The Bible is not my story; it is God’s story.  It is a redemptive drama highlighting the love, mercy, grace and patience of a God who loves us and who delights in our love for Him.  He has a unique and perfectly designed purpose for each of us.

God is not opposed to our satisfaction and fulfillment.  On the contrary, he delights in it.  He just knows that we’ll never find it apart from Him.  The subtle difference between misguided “baby-boomer theology” and true theology is not whether or not we should desire satisfaction and fulfillment, but in whom we should look for it. We will find ourselves when we find Him.

C. S. Lewis said this better than I ever will in an essay entitled “Membership” published in the book The Weight of Glory.  I recommend the entire essay, and all the other essays in the book for that matter, but my favorite quote is, “…we have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down.  Starting with the doctrine that every individuality is ‘of infinite value,’ we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs.  In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him.  He is capable of receiving value.  He receives it by union with Christ.  There is no question of finding for him a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy.  The place was there first. The man was created for it.  He will not be himself till he is there” (italics mine.)

I’ve learned a few other things from what the Bible never says.  Have you?  I’d love to hear what you’ve learned in a similar way and/or your thoughts the source of our self-esteem and ultimate worth.

4 thoughts on “What the Bible Does Not Say About Self-esteem

Add yours

  1. Hi Caddo.
    That well known phrase and “cleanliness is next to godliness” are nowhere to be found in Scripture. As for helping ourselves, I think there is a real tension, and I wrestle with it, between our dependence on God and our active participation with him. Good idea for an upcomimg post. Thanks for the suggestion! And thanks for stopping by and commenting. Bless you, Caddo.

  2. Good post, Judy–and I DO have something I’d love to see you discuss. When I was growing up my dad frequently said, “God helps him who helps himself”–which I discovered was NOT in the Bible. But I’ve realized that a well-respected Bible teacher whom I like very much, speaks often about how we need to “partner with God”, that if “we’ll do what we CAN do, God will do what we Can’t do”. This sounds to me like what Dad was saying–no? God bless you abundantly today.

  3. Hmmm…great question! The Bible does not say life is easy or pain-free. Did anyone besides me grow up believing it should be?! I’m learning…

    1. That seems to be a common expectation, at least in the prosperous USA, doesn’t it? Intellectually, I know that God does not promise an easy, pain-free life, yet when my life gets difficult or I experience pain, I’m somehow surprised. Shouldn’t be. I recently read a statement that really caught my attention – can’t remember where – but the author pointed out that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene and Paul struggling with his “thorn,” asked God to make their lives easier. and both of them received a firm, “No.” On the other hand, Jesus made many peoples’ lives easier and relieved their pain by healing them or delivering them from demons. You’re right Susie – no guarantees of easy or problem free lives – only of a God who loves and empowers us through it all. Thanks for the thought!

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