Christians and self-esteem has come up in conversation and on the blogosphere a few times for me recently and the resounding message that I hear reformed Christians giving is that self-esteem ought not to be based on ourselves but on looking to God. In his institutes, Calvin notes how we only understand ourselves by understanding the glory of God and our own depravity. In a world of Oprah and self-help, this is an important message and one which we must give attention to.
However, it is also in understanding the glory of God that we understand our own glory as well. We may be fallen images, but we’re still images! After all, it is post-fall that David can say that he is fearfully and wonderfully made. Of course, the emphasis is still on God – his action in making David fearful and wonderful – and David’s response is not to puff himself up but to praise God. But David also has a robust understanding that he is indeed wonderful! God’s general grace is that there is beauty and goodness built into the world, tarnished though it is. It’s OK to recognise that and indeed it’s part of the motivation for seeing it (including people) redeemed.
One of the areas that I long to see redeemed is mental illness. It is heartbreaking to bear with those who suffer from chronic depression (for example) as they descend into negative thought patterns. Their mind is so distorted that they see only their fallenness. And that distortion more than anything else, it seems to me, is the result of the fall. That they are blind to the gifts God has given them and the character he has built in them is a tragedy. There’s a sense in which their understanding of their self needs to be corrected here. And knowing God corrects self esteem – both up and down as needed! They need to be able to affirm that they are fearfully and wonderfully MADE and that because of that, they actually are fearful and wonderful.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.