It is no secret that self-esteem is not as highly regarded as it used to be.
Fifteen years ago a critique of the highly esteemed self-esteem movement appeared in no less a traditionally liberal newspaper than the New York Times. Back then several clinical studies even concluded that people with high self-esteem were likely a greater risk to the people around them than people with low self-esteem. Lauren Slater, a therapist and the author of the New York Times piece, judged the spirit of the times like this: “Self-esteem as a construct, as a quasi-religion, is woven into a tradition that both defines and confines us as Americans.” Ouch. Tough, challenging words, those.
What does the Christian faith have to say about self-esteem? To find the answer, go back to the beginning of time. In the beginning, before there was self-esteem, there was God-esteem: “God saw everything he had made and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Shame, suffering, and broken human community would be the result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Such brokenness carried into the day that ten men with a skin disease kept themselves at a safe distance from Jesus and all other human society, begging to be made clean. Such brokenness even manifests itself in our world where people with high and low self-esteem alike hurt one another and strive endlessly to promote themselves. Jesus’ healing and restoring of the ten men…his cleansing that we are given to receive once-and-for-all through Holy Baptism (“the washing of rebirth: Titus 3:4)…and his love and forgiveness that we receive each week through the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:28) bring us something better than self-esteem. They bring God esteem. A life lived with God esteem will never be perfect or always happy. It will be lived out of freedom: the freedom to give thanks to Jesus and glory to God (Luke 17:15–16) no matter what others (or even we ourselves!) might think about us.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). May God’s esteem of us in Christ impact each and every one of us as we are at work in the world for others!