Saturday, January 28, 2012
The Peculiar Problem of Pride
Today, I had a peculiar thought that is worth sharing, I think. I was reading through C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity at Starbucks (where I received a free coffee!) and started pondering the nature of compliments and some interesting problems they create.
We hand out compliments rather freely today, it seems to me. For instance, children in elementary schools (and beyond, I dare say) are praised for work that they might not have done themselves or that may have merited some constructive criticism. Friends tell other friends, sometimes facetiously, that they have done something rather well or that so-and-so looks very nice today. These, when said authentically, are not bad. They are necessary parts of relationships that allow winsome sentiments to be said and felt. I have learned the value of a truly-said compliment in brightening my own day and the days of others.
However, I have also found that these compliments create a peculiar problem. They are peculiar because it would seem to me, at first, that nothing bad could come of a well-meant compliment. At the instance of receiving some sort of praise, a metaphysical divergence of possibility is created for a person. That is, the person receiving the compliment is given, at an absolute level, several choices as to what they will do with the praise. They can either attribute the praise to themselves, thinking that it is an accurate reflection of their person and they decidedly warrant the praise. The other option that exists is broader one, whereupon they attribute the praise to an entity outside themselves. This entity is not necessarily God (although we will see that it ought to be).
There lie, at an absolute level, the two possibilities for all people receiving or giving praise. Since God has created all that exists and reigns over it, He is truly the one who has the legimate right to all praise. Whatever another person does is superseded and presupposed by His sustaining sovereignty. This the Christian must realize in their heart and lives, as it is a foundational truth that God has created and reigns by. It is, after all, our end goal and purpose as humans to glorify Him.
In my life I have found an imaginary situation to be helpful in thinking about how I deal with receiving or giving praise. I imagine myself receiving (or giving) an award at some large venue, perhaps similar to the Academy Awards (though with a decidedly different audience and purpose). The people around me in reality make up the imaginary audience, and God Himself is there, too.
If I am to receive praise, I see it as receiving an award of some sort. It could be for a job well done, for a certain aspect of my character. Regardless, it is presented and received on a grand, absolute stage. After receiving the award, I must naturally make an acceptance speech. In this speech I am able to make a choice as to who I will credit the award with. The proper response in every case would be to thank God with all my being before everyone present. But too often I find that speech hard to make. I find myself smiling, thanking the giver of praise, and smugly walking away thinking I somehow earned it.
The nature of the praise matters, too. A proper thank-you speech directed at God gets harder and harder to make as the praise becomes more grandiose. For instance, being told that I am rather talented at something or an incredible human (a true rarity) being tends to produce a greater struggle in my heart than a compliment about the way I look a certain that day seems to (especially since I care a great deal less about my appearance than my character).
In the imaginary situation, my actions are on display for all to see. In my everyday life, it is a much more subtle thing that, in most cases, only God and myself can really see. Yet this is reality—regardless of whether we think He (or anyone) can see it or not.
Realizing the nature of the prideful struggle that rages within my heart has helped me to better seek to glorify God. I hope that you, Christian, would ponder the struggle within your heart that has been there since birth and will be there until you die (although not in the same degree—thankfully!). Seek to in every situation give glory to Him who is really due any and all of it!