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.