You’ve heard the old saying, “pride goes before a fall”. The implication is that overconfidence, or an exaggerated sense of self-importance, will lead to having the rug pulled out from under us.
If our nose is stuck up in the air, be careful, ‘cause it could be brought down quickly.
Did you know this saying is a paraphrase of a proverb in the Bible? Proverbs 16:18 reads: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This is one of many scriptures warning us to be wary of pride.
Though the Bible is chockfull of caution, we live an interesting American paradox, where pride is considered a positive attribute; a character quality to strive after. How is that?
As a disclaimer, I understand some words are subject to connotation, depending on one’s culture and upbringing. However, I’ve always wondered how “pride” can be an affirming quality in our American heritage, while also being a dark, heinous characteristic in the Bible.
Can we take a look at this together?
In the United States, we indulge an inherently independent temperament. It’s the result, I think, of the well-defined, and meticulously dictated, rights decreed as inalienable for all.
Hence, comprehensive standards are scorned; it’s trendier to disperse into distinct pods of disparate peoples. Cooperation is rejected; cohesiveness ridiculed; compromise rebuked.
It’s my way or the highway; pride personified.
You see, pride, at its root, is self-centered arrogance, the belief that we’re superior to someone else. From the very beginning, evil of every kind has been rooted in one’s exalted sense of supremacy.
God’s archenemy, Satan, originally an anointed cherub named Lucifer, was expelled from Heaven for challenging God’s sovereignty. Thereafter, Satan, masquerading as a cunning serpent, tempted Adam and Eve with the same prideful enticement, saying they could be God’s equal.
And since then, man’s sinful nature has bent towards proving we’re supreme, second to no one.
Let me ask you, is the pride we have in being an American, or the pride we take in our children, the same as the pride described in scripture as evil? Perhaps.
My son was an exceptional kid. In school, he was smart, popular, and respected. He also was dutiful in helping care for his special needs sister. He was never embarrassed to be seen holding her hand in public, walking her through a store or across the gym after a ballgame. He was definitely the type kid a father would be proud of.
It was back in his Little League Baseball era when I was first conflicted with my conviction about the sinfulness of pride. He’d been the pitcher in a six-inning game, and had struck out 16 batters in route to the victory (he also walked eight, but that’s another story).
I was so pleased with his performance, and was about to say, “I’m proud of you Son”, when I tripped over my belief that pride is a subtle, sneaky sin to be sidestepped. In the moment, I came upon an alternative expression I’ve come to appreciate and often use: “I’m grateful for you.”
What’s the difference? Let me explain.
The expression “I’m proud”, insinuates I’m to be esteemed and credited for someone else’s achievement. It’s like saying, “I’ve invested much to make you who you are, and so I’m proud you’ve achieved my expectations and made me look good”. (Yes, that’s a little overstated, but bear with me.)
With “I’m grateful”, comes an accompanying sense of humble appreciation for one’s good fortune; for being blessed. It conveys a meekness that speaks to giving credit elsewhere, instead of selfishly clinging to it as my own. It’s the opposite of being a glory-hound.
Regarding patriotism, our “proud to be an American” mantra can be a virtue if rooted in appreciation for the selfless contributions of the countless multitudes who made our nation great. But, if the pride bears an attitude of superiority, a “better than thou” connotation, it’s the same old sin that has plagued mankind from the start.
Philippians 2:3,4 says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
If the esteem we encounter is grounded in gratitude, all is well. But if our ego is being buoyed with the perception of exalted self-importance, proceed cautiously.
Pride may be lurking in the shadows to trip you up.
Dave Hinman is Pastor Emeritus at Dove Church Wilmington. Reach him at [email protected] .
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.