On pride

By , 30 November 2007 9:59 pm

This week I was going to write something about teddy bears and the need to understand the mindset of very different cultures. Having taught for eight years in a culture which was at least partially Islamic I think I have something to offer in the current dispute. However these are sensitive times and I think it will probably wait. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind having my books publicly burnt in Khartoum, particularly if a) they had paid for them and b) I had good press coverage.

The real reason for the shift of topic is that I had a nice surprise this morning which has made me consider an old concern: the topic of pride. I was in early at college this morning but really was not feeling very excited about life; the weather was grey, the sky thick with clouds full of rain and I felt certain I was about to come down with ‘flu. Then I was suddenly summoned to the Principal’s office. I should explain that we don’t see an awful lot of the Principal, largely because he spends a lot of his time dealing with the impenetrable Welsh educational bureaucracy 60 miles away in Cardiff; so it was not a trivial summons. I won’t say my entire life flashed before me but it did cross my mind that December was not a good time to be made redundant.

I had no need to be concerned. On the contrary, it soon emerged that a student I had taught for the last two years had got the highest mark nationally at A-level in Geology. He got a book prize, and as his teacher, I got a Fellowship of the Geological Society for a year. Anyway, Chris Jones, currently at Emanuel College Cambridge reading Natural Sciences, is a great lad who probably could have got it just by reading the syllabus and teaching himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he occasionally reads this blog (he was very nice about the Lamb Among the Stars books even if he doesn’t share the Christian viewpoint) and he utterly deserves the award.

Now I mention this here because it raises a question that a member of church raised with me the other week: when if ever is it right to be proud? Frankly, I found this a difficult question then and I find it difficult now. When I first became a Christian I imbibed greatly of the truth that I was a miserable worm and that pride was the greatest of all sins. I developed remarkable skills at understating natural abilities and perfecting what I now think is probably a superficial humility. But ought we treat all awards as worthless baubles, as empty and vain gestures in this brief life? I have no doubt the Puritans would have said so. I don’t need them to know that there is a great deal of pride that is clearly wrong. Any sort of superiority that tries to demonstrate you are better than someone else is sinful. But is it totally wrong for instance for a parent to take pleasure in a son’s musical achievement or a daughter’s sporting triumph? Is it utterly appalling to take pleasure in some event that vindicates a tough or painful decision you have made?

It seems to me that these are difficult areas. Obviously, all that we have is by grace and we need to realise that in one sense we have nothing to be proud of. But beyond this isn’t there a sense in which we can take pride in an achievement? I wonder whether part of the problem is that the English word pride is very broad and covers a range of things extending all the way from innocent pleasure in a football team’s performance to wholesale and unacceptable boasting. I have to say I was jolly pleased about this morning’s news but my main pleasure lay in the regions of relief and possibly vindication. In the three years that I have been teaching, I have not found it very easy and have frequently felt I was something of a fraud. I guess this morning I finally felt that actually I might be doing a decent job.

Anyway I’m sure I’m not alone with the problem of pride. What I’d love is a simple memorable and permanently usable rule to distinguish ‘good pride’ from ‘bad pride’. Any ideas? In the meantime, I shall with, thanks to God, quietly stick FGS after my name!

Have a good week,
Chris

17 Responses to “On pride”

  1. bdwlf says:

    Hmmm, Christians and pride…I think you’re first subject may have been less controversial.

    I really think the secret to this quandary lies in first striving to keep the spirit of the law, rather than the letter. Religious piety may fulfill our human requirements for proper faith, but sometimes may actually take us further from what the heart of God truly is.

    I also agree that the English language may be doing us a disservice with such a broad definition of “pride.” Certainly there is a difference between self-respect and conceit, or confidence and hubris.

    In defense of ‘good pride’ I think of what it would be like for parents to teach their child how to excel at a certain sport. They impart all their knowledge, spend time practicing and coaching, instilling discipline, and are extravagent with encouragment.

    Then all of their hard work is rewarded when their child earns a trophy or award recognizing his/her ability. What if that child, truly trying to be a good person, took no pleasure in the achievement? What if there was no celebration, no excitement, no “high fives” or hoorahs? Would that bring any honor to the parents — who poured their time, love and attention into helping their progeny reach the heights of achievement?

    James 1:17 says that every good gift comes down from the Father…He pours His time, love and attention into us; and our achievements (even in secular realms, like the workplace) bring honor to Him who gives us our very breath.

    There are so many Scriptures that admonish us to “Rejoice in the Lord.” Our ability to succeed is always a result of His gifting, favor, and guidance; therefore, rejoicing in our achievements with a thankful heart (acknowledging Him as the “senior partner” in everything we do) is in some ways “Rejoicing in the Lord.”

    Of course, all of this is based on the assumption that Proverbs 3:6 has been incorporated in our lives. We must acknowledge the Lord in every area of our lives. So, I think the ‘rule’ requires a lifestyle of letting God into every part of our lives and acknowledging His presence in all that we do. (If we can’t, it may be something we shouldn’t be doing, right?)

    My pastor always says that “Self-sacrifice is entry level Christianity.” I believe if we are living a lifestyle that says “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” (Gal 2:20) than ‘good pride’ will glorify the Lord. If we cross the line into ‘bad pride’ I trust “He that began a good work in you…” will convict our hearts and lead us to a place of repentance, which will also glorify Him. The key is being sensitive to the things of God at all times.

    So my “simple, memorable…rule” is “Lean not on your own understanding…In all your ways acknowledge Him…” (Prov 3:5-6)

    There really is so much more to be said about this, and I realize that I’ve presented only one side of the coin, but I think the most appropriate response at this time is to “rejoice with them that rejoice..” (Rom 12:15) and offer a hearty CONGRATULATIONS to MR. CHRIS WALLEY FGS!

    By the way — super excited about the proposed release date!

  2. nubrainer says:

    Chris,

    Your search for that which divides “good pride” and “bad pride” is commendable. Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts.

    Recently our church went through a series with Philippians 4:8 as the base scripture. This passage came to mind as I finished reading your post. I’m not sure if this verse will speak to what you are looking for, but it was interesting to read it again in the light of your “pride” question. I quote it here for your consideration:

    “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (English Standard Version)

    Thanks for your time.

    Matthew

  3. Terry says:

    Chris,

    You’re right – this is a sticky subject. And you’re also right that the English word “pride” is far too general. There could be at least 4 or 5 words to describe the various opaque shades of what we loosely term “pride”.

    A possible definition of ‘good pride’ could be, “A healthy pleasure in, and appreciation for, true value and honest accomplishment.” That’s just off the top of my head – feel free to tweek, add, delete, whatever. I, too, would like to find a handy rule. Many heads are better…

    And a general rule might be that “Good pride increases my gratitude to, and sense of dependence upon, God”. Conversely, bad pride decreases those same things.

    For example, if I am proud of a job I have done, healthy pride leads me to thankfulness to God for His enabling, and pleasure in using His gifts to accomplish something of value. Similarly, if I am proud of one of my children, I recognize that the child is a gift from God to begin with, and I am most grateful for His work in his or her life. Sometimes because of me, sometimes in spite of me. Etc.

    Something related that I’ve thought about from time to time is the connection between pride and low self-esteem. At first glance, poor self-esteem and pride should be at opposite ends of the scale, but in reality, self-esteem is still the esteeming of SELF. A person struggling with a poor self-image is, by default, focused on self, and that fits pretty neatly into the general definition of pride. The antidote, of course, is to focus on our Lord, and what He says about us – not what others or we ourselves might say. Thoughts?

    Take care,

    Terry

  4. KIRSTY says:

    A few thoughts

    “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” Galatians 6v3-5

    My interpretation of this (which may be wrong) is that:

    * We need to have an accurate view of ourselves

    * If we have done well, we can take pride in this

    * We do not need to be THE best to be happy with our achievement, as long as it’s OUR best. Equally, putting others down to make ourselves look good is not right (but how often we do it)

    Pride in the Bible is not always bad – but it would depend what it was pride in. I guess, also, it still needs to be humble pride, acknowledging that our gifts come from God.

  5. Anonymous says:

    you should have signed it Chris, FGS ;).

    Re: pride, I think it is fine to be proud of your achievements. Its when you start flaunting them before others that it becomes bad. For example, I recently had a band concert. I had a solo, and I felt did a rather nice job. I was proud of myself and other people congratulated me. I didn’t go asking people if I did a nice job, but I didn’t automatically think, “Oh I did horrible, I am a worthless worm.”

    For the record I would have been interested in hearing your opinions on the “teddy bear” incident. I wonder what they did with the teddy bear…
    Thanks for faithfully posting,
    Anonymous Prodigy

  6. Palintir says:

    Congrats on the award!

    Soli deo gloria

    I would think that sinful Pride occurs whenever we ascribe our success, gifts, blessings to anyone or anything other than God.

    If God rewards us someday with “crowns”, then we can accept praise and recognition for our efforts, achievements, gifts or blessings. But always giving Him the praise and ultimate credit.

    Looking forward to you next book!

  7. bdwlf says:

    Terry,

    Thank you for pointing out the pride that is inherent in “low self-esteem”. I wish that was a message that more people would hear and understand. It is a huge pet peeve of mine, because it seems that in an effort to validate the insecure person, we lavish them with praises, encouragements and “warm fuzzies” only to find our efforts to be sucked into a black hole of insatiable neediness. Then you are trapped by an emotional energy vampire.

    In reality, the answer should not be to validate the person’s insecurities – but point them to God’s greatness and grace at work in their life. The trick is, that can really only be done by the person with low self-esteem. And to do it they must land the final blow on the “esteem” they are so desperately trying to uplift. What I mean is that they must find that place of absolute surrender where they exchange their life for the life of Christ. The proof of pride is in their resistance to that surrender. Ouch! (We’ve all been there before.)

  8. Chris says:

    Gosh. Some excellent thoughts here. Several comments.
    1) I shall indeed cover Teddy Bears (Before Christmas I also want to talk about an insidious attack on Handel’s Messiah I have uncovered).

    2) It does seem that we need to clarify what we mean by ‘pride’. I suggest two key forms (there are others) are ‘satisfaction-pride’ and ‘superiority pride’. Satisfaction-pride is when you do something (teaching, child rearing, err, blogging) and it all comes right. It is largely directed to yourself and it involves no comparison with any one else. I’d suggest that it is fairly harmless but can easily be twisted into a darker form of pride. Superiority pride is obviously directed against others. It cannot be defended.

    3) The low self esteem issue is a major one. One consequence of failing marriages is the number of children who have at best failed to have affirmation and, at worst, had verbal abuse. (Incidentally and controversially, the loss of corporal punishment may be an issue here; psychological abuse is often a teachers only weapon.) Are those most tempted to pride, those who are insecure? We do need some teaching on grace here! Having a right view of yourself in Christ is vital.

    Must go and do some sermon preparation!

    Blessings

    Chris Walley

  9. smokey the dog says:

    I jumped over to blueletterbible.org and did a search on pride and proud. After scrolling through the many verses listed I could find no positive verses reguarding pride. They were all negative. However I’m not sure that that excludes all instances of pride (small p)from our lives.
    What I was looking for was a verse or verses that indicated that God was ever proud of us. The closest thing to that I can think of is in Genesis where God calls his creation Very Good. Job well done! Maybe that is what we should be doing, acknowledging a job well done, but now wallowing in it.

  10. Terry says:

    Hey, everyone:

    If you’re interested in some information regarding blessings, and how they boost confidence and identity, here are some excellent resources. The Blessing, by Gary Smalley and John Trent, and The Power of Blessing, by Terry and Melissa Bone (www.idministries.ca).

    My wife and I have studied these with our small group, and found them to be excellent, especially for those who have missed blessings from their parents along the way. It’s never too late to both receive and give life-changing blessings to those around us. When we know who we are in Christ, and our place in the Father’s heart, pride is generally not an issue.

    Take care,

    Terry

  11. Amanda says:

    Hmm… I don’t think pride is always a bad thing. We should take pride in our accomplishments and pride in what we do, but there is a line that must not be crossed when we are proud.
    I think it all depends on the person and their relationship with the Lord. If you are firm in your beliefs and don’t give into temptation, then I don’t think pride is an issue with you. If you have a tendency to rub your accomplishments and your works in other’s faces, then it is sinful and is something you need to repent of and seek forgiveness.
    I take pride in things I do, but I don’t let that pride rule me or take precedence in my life.
    Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    By the way, I just got my Dark Foundations last weekend and have hardly been able to put it down. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!
    These books are so eye opening and give such a new outlook on somethings. I really love them to death!!
    Thanks!!
    Amanda
    http://homeschoolblogger.com/SuperAngel

  12. James A says:

    You ask “is it totally wrong for instance for a parent to take pleasure in a son’s musical achievement or a daughter’s sporting triumph?”

    No – absolutely not, it’s good to celebrate both the gifts and natural abilities that God has given us. Where it all goes wrong is when that turns from being God-centred to being self-centred.

    Yes – I’ve read the comments above and I’m tempted to debate Galatians, maybe even from the Greek text, but then that would definitely be bad pride wouldn’t it?

    James

  13. Chris says:

    An editor at Tyndale has referred me to this excellent blog: http://www.frederica.com/writings/seven-deadly-sins-pride.html
    I’m so glad I hadn’t read it first; it would have stopped me from writing this! She got there first.

    Chris

  14. Chris says:

    Hmm.that ought to be
    “http://www.frederica.com/
    writings/seven-deadly-sins-pride.html”
    as a single URL but this blog doesnt like this. Oh well.

  15. Kirsty says:

    James –
    It would not be bad pride to debate the meaning of Galatians from the Greek if your purpose was to build others up – only if it was to show off how good you were at Greek! It’s helpful for those of us who don’t know greek to have it explained by those who do – how else would we learn?

    But I understand what you mean. It is always difficult, when you know (or can do) something that others don’t (or can’t), to distinguish between showing off & helping. And, as fallen creatures, so often our motives can be mixed.

    But now I’m curious – what is the Greek?

  16. mjs2 says:

    Forgive me, this seems like an old topic that has been fairly well hashed out. However I might be able to add one element that hasn’t yet been discussed. That element would be scriptural justification for “satisfaction” pride.

    As an artist, a profession riddled with self-promotion, I have struggled with the pleasure which comes from doing a really good painting. I believe that it is something like the feeling God is recorded to have felt in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Of course I work on a totally different level than God did, and I am severely handicapped in comparison to Him.

    Also, when I study other artists in the Bible (and there aren’t many), I find that this ability to create is a gift given to me by God. By extension, when I do something really good, I am seeing the work of God in my life. And that is something to be absolutely thrilled about.

  17. mjs2 says:

    P.S. I’m afraid I haven’t read your books, and therefore do not know if you approve ending sentences in prepositions. I know that it is a big deal for some people, but I hope you don’t find it distracting from the message. Perhaps I should read an author’s books before commenting on his website. Somehow I suppose I’ll pull through…

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