How Self-Esteem Ruins Bible Reading
We’re joined one last time with our guest, Jen Wilkin — wife, mom, Bible teacher, and author of the fabulous book Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds.
Jen, you once tweeted this: “Women teachers, let’s shift the emphasis from ‘Girl, you are a precious daughter of the King’ to ‘Behold your King.’ Lift up their eyes.” That sounds like it’s right at the heart of your whole aim of what you’re trying to accomplish in equipping women to read their Bibles whole, from cover to cover. Expound on that tweet for us.
Behold Your King
The number-one topic that I’m asked to speak on when people invite me is identity — what is my identity in Christ? Women are consumed with the question “Who am I?” And that’s a valid question.
“The first step in becoming a child of God is recognizing that the center of the universe is him, not us.”
That’s probably the most basic question that any human being can ask, and the Bible is not silent on that question. It says we are image bearers. We’re created in the image of God. But we have a hard time understanding the implications of that.
Not only that, but because we as humans are so inward-focused, part of, I would say, the first step in becoming a child of God is recognizing that the center of the universe is him, not us.
I think that the reason the self-esteem messages that are common in women’s circles don’t stick is because self-esteem, detached from any idea of who God is, is just not a lasting message. It requires constant reaffirmation.
What we lack is a vision of God high and lifted up. Once we understand that the God who has sought relationship with us is a transcendent God, it rightly orients us first to him, then it rightly orients us to ourselves, and then it rightly orients us to our neighbor. It helps to get the order right in order to live out the Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
It is accurate to say that our lack of self-love is prohibiting our love of neighbor. But the root problem is not that we don’t love ourselves accurately; it’s that we don’t love God accurately.
When we begin to love God the way that we should, then our self-love falls into the right category. We understand that we are accepted in Christ, that we have been given much grace, and that God is faithful to his covenant whether we are faithful or not.
“The root problem is not that we don’t love ourselves accurately; it’s that we don’t love God accurately.”
All of these ideas, all of this right thinking about God, then train us to love our neighbor from a place of graciousness because we understand what love from a place of graciousness looks like.
The “precious daughter of the King” language is everywhere in Christian women’s circles, and while I want to point it out and ask some questions about it, I don’t want to diminish that it is a beautiful idea. I just want the idea to be framed within the beauty of who the King is, rather than some princess mentality, which I think we could all acknowledge has not done women any favors in any variety.
Whether it came from Disney, or whether it came from fairy tales, or you name it, the princess mentality hasn’t helped. We are precious daughters of the King, but it is because of the King’s preciousness that we can understand the significance of that statement.
That’s a really good word. I think this next question is related, or it seems to be to me. What would you say to Bible readers who, on a regular basis, open their Bibles with a felt need in their life, and then go look for the one verse that applies to that felt need? It becomes the default way many people approach the Bible. How do you address that?
I actually have a name for that method of Bible reading. I call it the Xanax approach to Scripture. It’s where I just want to medicate my feelings with the Bible.
If I have had a week where I’m feeling anxious, then I’m obviously going to write Philippians 4:6 on a note card: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I’m going to write that down. I’m going to repeat it like an incantation over myself and ask the Lord to give me comfort around that.
If I’m exhausted, I’m going to quote, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28), even though that’s actually about soul rest, not about physical rest. But that’s not going to bother me, because I’m just tired, man, and I just need some answers.
If I feel ugly — I mean, this is the one that women, when we make pink parts of the Bible, highlight— if I feel ugly or my pants don’t fit, I’m going to go to Psalm 139 and tell myself that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made — about five hundred times.
“Self-esteem messages don’t stick because, detached from any idea of who God is, it is just not a lasting message.”
And it doesn’t just stop with self-medicating. When I find something that I think hits me in a warm and fuzzy place, I’m going to begin dispensing medication to all of my friends via social media with these verses that I’ve found.
I think the issue is that when we come to the Bible that way, we’re asking the Bible to operate according to our terms, rather than asking the God of the Bible to speak to us on his terms.
I don’t know anyone who’s having a bad week who looks up Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” There are plenty of passages in the Bible that don’t deliver an immediate dose of emotional satisfaction to us, but they serve a very important formative purpose for us.
When we read the Bible that way, we end up with spot knowledge of the Bible that is ultimately unhelpful. We have picked only those passages that yield something to us immediately. You’re never going to read the book of Leviticus if this is your approach to the Bible. You’re never going to read Lamentations. You’re going to stick to the parts that give you what you think you need from the Bible, rather than asking the God of the Bible to minister to you through his word on his terms.
That’s brilliant and exactly right: “Plenty of passages in the Bible don’t deliver an immediate dose of emotional satisfaction to us, but they all serve an important formative purpose within us.” I’m tweeting that as soon as we’re done. Jen, our time is ending — what a wonderful week. Again, Jen’s book, Women of the Word, has turned four years old and has now sold 200,000 print copies. But it’s not for women only. As you like to say to men, “Just rip off the cover, bro.”
Rip the cover off, bro — that’s right. That’s all you gotta do. You might have to Google “rhumba tights” and just see what those are, but other than that, you should be fine.
Well, whatever those are, this was an edifying week. Jen, thank you!
Thanks for having me on.