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Pride: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Don Umphrey

 (with scriptural citations from the NIV)

Following his attendance at church one Sunday in 1786, Scottish poet Robert Burns was prompted to write a poem titled ““To A Louse—On seeing one on a lady's bonnet at church.”

He sat right behind this woman who seemed proud of the attention she was getting from fellow worshipers, most particularly the new bonnet she was wearing. 

Unbeknownst to her, during the service a louse climbed out of her hair and onto her bonnet. Everyone sitting behind her saw it.  

The final stanza of Burns’ poem includes the following observation:

“Oh, would some Power give us the gift. 

To see ourselves as others see us!

It would from many a blunder free us…”

The Booger

Something akin to the experience of Robert Burns occurred in my life when I was a junior in high school. 

My American history teacher was a big, burly man who used sweeping gestures to get across his ideas. In the midst of particularly long tirades, he would work up a sweat and wipe his face with his handkerchief.  

As he did this one day, an object originating in his nose was inadvertently transferred to his cheek. It stuck there, and everyone could see it but him.

I wanted to tell him the obvious, but how exactly does a 16-year-old phrase such a statement to the teacher with the rest of the class listening.  

My classmates probably thought the same thing. It was torture sitting there for the next 25 or 30 minutes until the bell rang.  

What was it like from his perspective?  I’m pretty sure that starting at that one particular moment, none of the students made much eye contact with him.  I’ll never know how long the offending object remained in place; it was still there at the end of class.  However, it was not present the following day.

Would You Want to Know?

Going back to Burns’ observation about seeing yourself as others see you, would you really want to know? In every possible circumstance?

This is an uncomfortable thought because at some point we’ve all had something akin to a louse or a booger that everyone could see but us. 

We’ve also observed some people who have a huge gap between the way they perceive themselves and the way others see them. There may be times when we would be willing to go to great lengths to avoid such individuals.

To some extent the greater the gap between perceived self and the way most other people perceive an individual, the greater the problem. However, the true measurement is between the way we are perceived by God and what we think about ourselves.  

Three “Gods”

The ultimate difference in the gap between self and reality was explored by social psychologist MIlton Rokeach in the early 1960s.  Details of his research are found in his book, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.  The title refers to Ypsilanti State Hospital that was then located in the southeastern Michigan city of Ypsilanti but has since been torn down.  

As a part of his experiment, Rokeach grouped together three male patients who were each deluded to the point where he claimed to be God. Would this contact with others making the same claim lead them to relinquish their delusions of deity?

The answer was no.

From reading about them, it was very clear that they were so detached from reality that they had no idea about God’s identity or their own. While each thought he was God, it was obvious to everyone else that all three were insane.

These three men make a point for us. The ultimate in being deluded is thinking of self as God.

What Is Pride?

While growing up I don’t recall hearing how Satan might try to influence my life.  I did hear that the devil was guilty of pride, and this subsequently played into the negative ideas about Christianity I harbored at that time of my life. I interpreted this as meaning Christians are supposed to walk around with hang-dog expressions on their faces and that if I was miserable enough in this life, I could join other equally miserable people in heaven.

Of course, I was way off-base. 

I later learned that pride is an unusual word because it has dual, nearly opposite meanings.  Here are the definitions from my pocket dictionary: 

1. a) an overhigh opinion of oneself; b) haughtiness, arrogance.

2. dignity and self-respect

3. satisfaction in something done, owned, etc. 

4.a person or thing in which pride is taken

As an angel, Satan enjoyed a face-to-face relationship with God. At some point he was determined to be God and led an ill-fated revolution among the angels to overthrow the Almighty.  Satan’s influence may be found behind every lie, injustice, and murder that has her occurred on this earth.  (See Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:12-19, and Revelation 12:7-9 and 20:1-3.)

According to author Erwin W. Lutzer, Satan’s “desire was to be like God, not to be unlike Him.  Ironically, this arrogant desire would make him as much unlike God as it possible to be.”

Satan possesses the greatest possible gap between God’s reality and his perception of self, the ultimate in pride.  

As the source of evil, Satan talked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit with the idea of “…you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5b).  He also lied to her when saying, “You will not certainly die…” (Genesis 3:5a). Subsequently, Jesus said this about Satan: “…When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). 

Pride is the polar opposite of humility, and as sinners we walk a line between Satan and Jesus, the ultimate in humility, hopefully moving ever closer to the Lord. 

What the Bible Says

Both the positive and negative sense of pride may be found in the Bible. In the positive sense, here are Paul’s words, “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you (2 Corinthians 7:4). 

Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, both meanings of pride are found in the same verse.  “We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (2 Corinthians 5:12). 

Following are some Bible verses about pride in the negative sense: 

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5).

“Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!” (Proverbs 21:4).

“In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Psalm 10:4).

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

 In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. Psalm 10:4

"But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6)

"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited" Romans 12:16.


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Copyright  2023 by Don Umphrey

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