“None of us have a problem with low self-esteem.”
Yes, really, at least according to Ronnie Martin. In an article that commends The beauty of low self-esteem, Ronnie says that all of us have the opposite problem, high self-esteem, which God is out to “destroy” and “eradicate.”
I know where he’s coming from, and I know the problem he’s trying to address. But this is a major over-reaction and requires much more care, especially in counseling people with depression, many of whom have come to hate and loathe themselves, often as the result of abuse or other trauma.
Without minimizing the wickedness of the human heart and without denying our inability to do anything pleasing to God apart from faith in Christ, we should regularly encourage depressed people to have a more realistic view of themselves by highlighting their God-given gifts, their contributions to the lives of others, their usefulness in society, and, if they are Christians, their value to the church.
The power of positive thinking?
For example, a depressed young mother may feel like a total failure in every area of her life because she doesn’t have a perfect home or perfect children. We can help such a person see that she achieves a lot in a day, even though she might not manage to do everything she would like. We might remind her of all the meals she makes, clothes she washes and irons, and the shopping she manages, helping her see herself and her life in a more accurate and realistic light.
This is not “the power of positive thinking” but “the power of truthful thinking.” In a wonderful little book, Spiritual Depression, Arie Elshout comments:
It is wrong to pat ourselves on the back when something has been accomplished as a result of our initiative. It is equally wrong, however, to focus on what we have not accomplished. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 we have a clear example of humility accompanied with a healthy opinion of one’s accomplishments: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Paul knew very well that he daily offended in many things (James 3:2; cf. Rom. 7; Phil. 3:12), and yet he did not go so far as to cast out all his accomplishments. I do not believe that this is God’s will. In contrast to sinful forms of self-confidence and self-respect, there are also those that are good, necessary, and useful. Without a healthy sense of these, human beings cannot function well. We may pray for an appropriate sense of self-confidence and self-respect, clothed in true humility, and we must oppose everything that impedes a healthy development of these things (be it in ourselves or others) with the Word of God.
A chasm of difference
Ronnie Martin concluded his article by saying, “The beauty of low self-esteem is that we finally have the hearts to highly esteem God.”
But we are not highly esteeming God if we fail to identify, acknowledge, and esteem His image and His work in us and through us. What Ronnie fails to make clear is that there’s a chasm of difference between evil pride and healthy God-given self-esteem, without which we actually cannot function in this life.
In fact without it, Moses couldn’t have led Israel, Joseph couldn’t have governed Egypt, and Ronnie couldn’t have written an article for the Gospel Coalition!
Sam Crabtree’s Practicing Affirmation (God-centered praise for those who are not good) provides a superb balance on this subject.