Our culture celebrates pride. We are supposed to be proud of ourselves, our bodies, our traditions, our ethnicity and our choices.
I think when our culture glorifies pride, the assumption is that pride means feeling good about yourself and accepting yourself. Pride is believing in yourself. Pride is telling yourself, "I am a good person. I am worthy. I am deserving."
Although there may be a surface appeal to this philosophy, the Christian in me must protest. There is a part of me that has a knee-jerk reaction that says, "This is wrong! This is utterly contrary to the gospel!" And it is.
Sometimes we Christians get the gospel a little bit mixed up, too. Because in the self-deprecating idea that we are miserable, undeserving, stinking, low-down sinners, we lose the idea of the dignity inherent in the fact that humanity was created by God, in His image.
Created by God.
In His image.
The Bible says that everything God created was good. God created us, and pronounced us good.
Original goodness preceded original sin. How often do we ponder that?
We were created by God, for friendship with God. We were created out of God's love, to receive God's love.
There is dignity in that. We truly are special. It's not marketing puffery. God created us. He did good work when He made us, and He was pleased with His creation. He pronounced us good. There is an intrinsic goodness in us that sin can never completely erase.
Sin originated in pride, flowing out of those who believed in themselves rather than in God.
God created all things good. As He went through the process of creating, He continually examined what He was making and saw that it was good. Everything was good.
Into all this goodness, God placed a man and a woman. Then, He saw that His creation was not only good, it was very good!
In God's good creation there was a beautiful garden, and in the garden there were many different, beautiful, fruit-bearing trees. In the middle of the garden, God placed a tree called, "The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." This is the first we hear of evil.
C.S. Lewis says that there is no evil that was not first something good. Evil does not exist independently. It is merely a perversion of what is good. This is why, even today after so many years of living with the consequences of sin, we are shocked and appalled when we see news stories about heinous crimes that people have committed. God created people for good, and it bothers us when people do horrible things. "What is wrong with people?" we ask.
Sin. That's what is wrong with people. Sin came into the garden when Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The irony is that they already had the knowledge of good (Colin S. Smith pointed this out, and it is true). God told them not to eat the fruit, because He wanted them to be protected from the knowledge of evil. The only thing God had denied them was the knowledge of evil. Who would even want to know evil? Satan, the deceiver, came along and gussied up evil like a flashy prostitute, to tempt them. "Your eyes will be opened if you eat this fruit," he beguiled. "You will be like God, knowing good from evil. You won't die!"
"You will be like God," he said. And their pride rose up in their hearts. God had something they did not have. God was keeping something from them. They wanted it. They wanted everything. They wanted to be like God, great and powerful and wise. How could a loving God refuse to share something with them?
"You will be like God, knowing good from evil," said Satan.
So they ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and since they already knew good, they learned about evil. They experienced evil. Evil grabbed hold of God's creation with a power Adam and Eve had never imagined. Winds turned harsh. Gentle rains turned into violent storms. Lions started eating lambs, and bacteria began to spread diseases.
"You won't die!" promised Satan.
They did not die immediately, that day. But they eventually died, just as God had said they would, and Satan is a liar. Before their own deaths, they saw other deaths. Because they were naked, God made clothing for them from animal skins, from animals that died, animals whose deaths they witnessed, animals whose deaths benefitted them. They also saw one of their sons kill another of their sons.
They ate the forbidden fruit, and they experienced evil. They experienced sorrow and fear and death.
Thus, the curse of sin entered creation and contaminated all of creation. Sin and death rule our world, and every person born arrives marked with the mutation of sin.
Yet, even in the earliest beginning, God made promises: "I will cause hostility between the snake and the woman, between her offspring and the snake's. The snake will bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman, but the Seed of the woman will crush the snake's head."
The snake would be trampled, and the curse would be undone.
Because God loves His creation, loves humanity, loves people.
God values people, and from the beginning, He planned to rescue us, to go to unfathomable lengths to redeem and restore us. He created us good, and He has perfect plans to restore us to goodness.
Pride says, "I believe in myself. I can live perfectly well without God. I can figure out my own standard for good and bad." This is a lie. It's quite obvious. If all of us try to figure out our own standards for good and bad, there will be millions of different standards, and nobody will agree, and everybody will fight. Life cannot be good if we don't have a universal standard for goodness. It is hard enough to cooperate if we have a universal standard for goodness, but it is fundamentally impossible if we don't have one. Meanwhile, Satan slithers around in the background, gleefully whispering to each proud heart, "You are the one who is right about this. Believe in yourself. Nobody can tell you what's good or bad. Nobody has the right to judge you."
Unlike pride, dignity says, "There is a true goodness that I can aspire to. There is a good God who loves me and wants to reveal this goodness to me. There is a quest for true goodness that I can embark upon, and God will meet me and teach me, because He loves me. I believe in God and His good plans for creation."
Pride says, "I am a good person."
Dignity says, "The Lord loves me, and He is in the process of purifying me for His good purposes."
Pride says, "I am worthy: worthy of respect, worthy of reward."
Dignity says, "The Lord Himself has redeemed me, at the price of His own precious blood. Although I was of little worth, He saw my potential and bought me out of slavery to sin. I am a fixer-upper, and He is the best renovation artist ever. In the opinion of the God of the Universe, I was worth dying for, even in my sinful state, because He knows the plans He has for me, to make me valuable in His Kingdom. His work in my life produces beauty in me and proves my worth to Him."
Pride says, "I am deserving. I deserve all the good things. I should have comfort, health, happiness and approval."
Dignity says, "Although I was captive to foolishness, godlessness and sin, the Lord graciously saved me and gave me hope and a future. When I deserved to be cast aside, He drew me into His arms. He opened my eyes to reality, brought me to my senses. He showed me the destructive end of sin, the dire consequences I had racked up for myself. Then He graciously pulled me up out of the slimy pit of mud and mire, and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, so I could thank Him and praise Him and experience fullness of joy. When I deserved hell, Jesus offered me heaven."
One of the greatest ironies of life is this: Pride, while pretending to offer you dignity, actually robs you of your dignity.
Dignity comes from understanding that we were created in the image of God, for the glory of God. Sin has thrown some kinks into the equation, universally staining us from birth, but under God's powerful hand we can be made new and pure. This purity comes first through the forgiveness that is possible because Jesus took the penalty that we deserved. Yes, if you want to talk about what we deserve, we deserve permanent separation from God--in other words, hell. But Jesus experienced hell in our place, to save us from eternal damnation. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He cried from the cross. He died for us, taking our punishment on His own body. By spilling His blood for us, He has enabled us to be declared righteous before God. Then, when He rose again, He enabled His very Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, to be poured out into our hearts. The Holy Spirit works to purify us day by day, helping us to understand what is right and good, and empowering us to do what is right and good. Dignity says, "I belong to the King of the Universe, and He loves me."
Pride denies God and refuses to worship Him, refuses to glorify Him, refuses to thank Him.
Dignity sees creation and gives thanks to the Creator, wondering at the mystery of His power, beauty and love.
Pride becomes darkened in its thinking, foolish and futile, fixated on defending its own wrong perspective.
Dignity sees by the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit and grows in knowledge and truth.
Pride casts aside the Creator and instead worships created things. Eventually, pride worships mere images of created things, becoming more and more degraded as it worships increasingly worthless and harmful things.
Dignity aligns itself with the Creator and Redeemer and praises Him in gratitude, drawing worth from the Glorious One it worships.
Pride behaves in destructive, disgraceful ways that lead to shame. Pride tries to battle shame by pretending that there is no shame, by claiming that shameful things are good, by lying.
Dignity is clothed in the righteousness of Christ, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, and transformed into the likeness of Christ. Dignity bears the good fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Dignity walks in the power of Truth.
God offers us dignity, in place of our miserable, deadly pride.
But you, O Lord,
are a Shield about me,
and the Lifter of my head.
Psalm 3:3 (ESV)