On Being ‘Proud’

There is a good and bad sort of pride:

Perhaps many folks will find that writing an article like this is not all that necessary. That is, they know that there are different understandings of the word “proud.” But some folks it seems are less clear on these distinctions, so it might be worth exploring this topic a bit further.

And the background to it is this: I wrote a piece on spiritual pride the other day, and one fellow sent in a comment indicating that he was all rather perturbed about it, and/or perhaps rather confused. It seems he did not understand that words like ‘pride’ and ‘proud’ can be used in two quite different ways.

There is a good sort of pride and a bad sort of pride of course. The good and morally acceptable (or at least morally neutral) sort of pride can be reflected in statements such as the following:

-I am a proud father.

I am a proud member of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

-I am a proud American.

-I am a proud truck driver.

-I am a proud grandmother of three great grand-kids.

-I am a proud soldier.

-I am a proud member of my local football club.

-I am a proud blood donor.

-I am a proud descendant of Dutch Calvinists.

-I am a proud sponsor of some orphaned children overseas.

-I am a proud veteran.

-I am a proud defender of the US Constitution.

You get the point. There is nothing wrong as such with those sorts of things. We can all take pride in our work, in our craftsmanship, in our jobs, in our family relationships, in our commitments, in our ancestry, in our communities, and so on. As one online dictionary says of this good kind of pride:

A feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired. ‘The team was bursting with pride after recording a sensational victory’.”

Sure, sometimes these things might become a source of the wrong kind of pride, but not necessarily. Anything good can become perverted and distorted. Patriotism if pushed too far can become a harmful nationalism where xenophobia and the like might arise. A healthy love of one’s church can lead to an improper criticism and dislike of all others.

And that leads to the second definition of pride, the harmful and morally unacceptable sort of pride: pride that is all about arrogance, looking down on others, having a haughty spirit, thinking you are better than others. That is obviously a sinful sort of pride which the Bible warns against and culture in general tends to look down on and disprove of.

We should not be arrogant and have an overly-inflated view about ourselves. We should be humble, and thank God for whatever talents and gifts and callings we might have. It is this sort of pride that the Bible warns against so often. Consider for example just a few verses on this:

Psalm 18:27 For you save a humble people,
    but the haughty eyes you bring down.

Psalm 138:6 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar.

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 18:12 Before a downfall the heart is haughty,
    but humility comes before honor.

James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

So in this morally wrong and sinful sense of the terms, yes of course: we should want nothing to do with pride, and we should let God help us in dismantling and removing such pride. But having a healthy and wholesome (and non-sinful) pride in your work or achievements or commitments or relations and so on is not wrong. In fact it is a good thing.

And yes there can be some grey areas between the two, and the borders can be rather porous at times. So we need to stay on our knees and keep seeking the Lord, asking him to point out to us when any sinful pride and arrogance is creeping into our lives.

That is a never-ending need of all Christians. Slipping into arrogance and pride is an ever-present temptation, so we must constantly seek to have God’s perspective on how we are travelling. We can be proud of some things, but we must guard against haughty arrogance. A few closing quotes can be offered here.

It was Jane Austen who put it this way in Pride and Prejudice: “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

Or as C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

And the Apostle Paul put it as follows in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

I know I can struggle in this area. While I can take proper pride in my work, it can easily slip into a sinful sort of arrogance. So please keep me in your prayers thanks. I would rather by God’s grace keep humble and have limited influence in my ministry than be arrogant with a lot of influence (although hopefully one can be both humble and influential!)

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3 Replies to “On Being ‘Proud’”

  1. We can speculate that pride is the original sin. The very first sin ever committed. It was the cause of the downfall of Lucifer.

  2. The common application of ‘pride’ to perversion suggests that in those contexts, pride is a symptom of shame.

  3. I actually believe that the ‘good sort of pride’ (taking satisfaction and pleasure in seeing the outcome of something we have labored for) is a small part of us being made in the image of God. At each creation step, God “saw that it was good”, and “very good” after He had created man. Then He rested.

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