Summary: Self-focused pride 1) causes anxiety, 2) leads to a fall, 3) can be redeemed through God-focused humility. We can humble ourselves by 1) recognizing God as sovereign, 2) crediting God for our abilities, and 3) directing our gifts to the good of others.
PUTTING PRIDE IN ITS PLACE—Daniel 4
PRIDE. One of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” along with greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. But is it always bad?
There is a kind of healthy pride, which values one’s abilities, celebrates achievement, and motivates positive behavior. Paul refers to healthy pride in Galatians 6:4, “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can TAKE PRIDE in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else…”
There is also a kind of unhealthy pride: arrogant, with an attitude of superiority and entitlement.
***One pet lover—a particular kind of pet lover—describes the difference like this: He says that when a master pets his dog, the dog wags his tail and thinks, “He must be a god.” When the master strokes his cat, the cat purrs, and thinks, “I must be a god.” Who knows what the pets are thinking?**
God-focused pride can be described as “…faith in the idea that GOD had when he made you.” That kind of pride drives us to be our best, and causes us to celebrate the goodness of God in our success.
Self-focused pride can be described in the words of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, in Daniel 4:30: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by MY mighty power and for the glory of MY majesty?” Self-focused pride can be deadly.
SELF-FOCUSED PRIDE LEADS TO ANXIETY.
Nebuchadnezzar begins the story in his own words: Read Daniel 4:4-7.
Do you sometimes remember your dreams? What interpretation do you give to them?
Not all dreams have a meaning, but when they do, they might reflect our deepest thoughts and emotions. Neb’s dream was the dream of an ANXIOUS man, who described himself as, “afraid…terrified…” In an attempt to get to the root of his anxiety, he called in all the psychic experts in his court, but none of those charlatans could interpret his dream. Finally, he called upon Daniel, a Jewish exile who had risen to a high position. Neb recognized that Daniel had a God-given gift for interpreting dreams and visions, and he told Daniel his dream.
Read Daniel 4:10-16.
It doesn’t take a psychological genius to see why the dream made Neb anxious. Like the tree, he dominated the skyline in his palace, and his kingdom was visible to the ends of the earth. He provided food and shelter, beauty and protection, to all in his kingdom. Everyone depended on him for life, and he was proud of what he had built.
But in the dark of night, the dream turns into a nightmare. The tree falls, the fruit is gone, and everyone flees. All that is left is a stump, which in the fluidity of his dream, turns into a man with the mind of an animal.
The dream is a nightmare of a person with self-focused pride.
It is like the nightmare of a man or woman who has built an empire in business, or experienced great success at work. It is like the nightmare of a mother, who congratulates herself on being a super mom, with great kids and influence in her community. It is like the nightmare of a successful investor, who gets on the computer to congratulate himself on the growth of his investments and the security of his “securities.” The nightmare is that it could all fall apart, destroying even the person’s identity.
Self-focused pride takes credit for everything that has been achieved: abilities, opportunities, wise choices, and hard work. Yet lurking below the surface are the things that can’t be controlled: health, politics, the economy, and other people. Anxiety rises, because so much could go wrong, and everything could come crashing down.
The worst fear for proud people is that they might fall apart under the pressure.
SELF-FOCUSED PRIDE LEADS TO A FALL.
Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Daniel spared no words in interpreting Neb’s dream: Read Daniel 4:23-25.
For Neb, the cause of the “fall” would be a psychological breakdown: “Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’… Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” (Daniel 4:29-33)
“Pride goes before…a fall.” Not always like Neb, perhaps, but just as destructive.
The “fall” could be a moral disaster, as we see so often among powerful men and women, who feel entitled to abuse their power and misuse people. The abuse stays hidden, until it is finally exposed, and the kingdom crumbles.