Self-Esteem

The problem of self-esteem seems to be evergreen. There are those on the left who, like a broken record, will claim that almost all our problems are due to a low self-esteem. The solution seems to be that everyone should find a way to raise their own self-esteem, feel good about themselves, such that they will no longer feel depressed.

On the other hand, there are those who are in favor of such inward self-loathing that the image of God seems to disappear. There don’t appear to be very many of these kinds of people around today, but I have no doubt that there are some, especially among the more suicidal types.

As is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. However, in order to see the truth about self-esteem, we need to nuance the discussion. It is not a matter of whether we should have high or low self-esteem. Instead, it is a question of which way (or concerning what) we should have self-esteem, and which way we should not.

One reason for having a proper and relatively high self-esteem is that the image of God resides in us. Any view of self-esteem that refuses to recognize this runs the risk of degrading God Himself. Some conservative reactions to the whole self-esteem movement seem to have fallen into this over-reaction. I was one of these once upon a time. A right estimation of ourselves cannot leave the image of God out of the picture. The image of God requires respect, both in ourselves and in others. We must not let the opposite extremes of the self-esteem movement blind us to the fact that many people loathe the image of God that is in themselves, and wrongly so.

The more common mistake, of course, is to press self-esteem so far upon us all that no problems are even to be mentioned. Sin is ignored. The distortion of the image of God that is here by way of the Fall is ignored. This is the main failure of the self-esteem crowd. Are we to esteem that which is not estimable? Are we to esteem that which the Bible calls despicable?

The Bible commends self-loathing if it is connected to the rightly loathsome thing (namely, our sin). See Ezekiel 6:9, for instance. The right balance here is to esteem highly the image of God in us, and to loathe the distortion that sin brings.

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Against the Documentary Hypothesis

It is not perhaps as well-known as it should be that Geerhardus Vos published a treatise called The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes. In this volume, he has some wise words about the supposed criteria used to “prove” disparate sources:

What the critics in reality do by this method, is just by a dexterous but suspicious movement to turn in their favor what is in fact against them. That an Elohistic phrase all at once makes its appearance in the midst of a purely Jehovistic environment, is a most perplexing difficulty, which cannot be relieved by declaring it the result of a variety of hands which have been at work upon the composition of the Pentateuch. For it is a sound critical axiom, that diversity of style and diction can only be verified by a comparison of lengthy passages, whose usus loquendi is exclusive. Isolated exceptional cases turn back upon the theory, and prove exactly the opposite; viz., that the criteria intermingle, which is tantamount to saying that they are no criteria at all (p. 29).

Warnings Against Presumption

A very incisive warning against false security is found in Eichrodt’s commentary on Ezekiel 5:5-17:

In both passages (he means Ezekiel 16:48ff in addition to 5:5-17, LK) we see the special danger which overhangs the God-given gift of grace. It is that false security, which prides itself upon its privileged position, making it into a pillow for human sloth and selfishness to slumber on. God’s free gift ought to be regarded as a call to service; it does not at all satisfy man’s lustful desires, but it does open to the human will a new possibility of union with God’s saving will. But man instead soothes himself with irrevocable assurances of the divine good pleasure, so as to save himself from having to make any efforts, and to make him the proprietor of a divine domain specially reserved for him alone to enjoy. This refusal to make the right response to the question which lies in God’s gift can have no other outcome but disregard for the ‘statutes and ordinances'” (Eichrodt, Ezekiel, p. 91).