Significance, Self-Esteem, and Pride

Isn't a desire for significance or self-importance just another form of sinful human pride? Recently I heard a Christian leader say that God has "planted a hunger for significance in the heart of every human being." He went on to add that this drive is behind nearly everything we do. I couldn't help connecting this idea with everything I've heard over the years concerning the importance of "self-esteem." As far as I'm concerned, these teachings seem to imply that God is responsible for human pride, which the Bible clearly represents as the root of all sin and evil. How can this be?

There are definitely a couple of different sides to this issue. It’s like a double-edge sword that cuts two ways. Let’s take a look at it from both angles.

In one respect, we agree with the teacher or preacher who asserted that this “hunger for significance” comes directly from God. As a matter of fact, there’s a sense in which it is basic to our humanity. We might even say that it’s foundational to our relationship with the Lord. Why? Because it’s the thing that motivates us to seek out a connection with Something or Someone bigger than ourselves. It’s the key to discovering mankind’s purpose in the universe.

At the same time, we agree with you that this drive can become a huge liability. This happens when we are tempted to satisfy it outside the context of fellowship with our Creator. In that case, it can lead to pride, a puffed up ego, and a lust for self-aggrandizement. “Hunger for significance” is a killer when, in the language of the Old Testament Prophets, it induces men and women to ‘go a-whoring’ after other gods (Exodus 34:15; Judges 2:17; Ezekiel 23:30; Hosea 4:12, 9:1).

This leads to the question you’ve raised: why would God intentionally plant this hunger in our hearts? Surely He must have known that it might lead us astray. Does this mean that He is ultimately accountable for human sin? Should we blame Him for the evil that infects creation? The answer is no. The Bible declares that God has made all things good and beautiful, including the human heart and its deepest longings (Genesis 1:31; Ecclesiastes 3:11). He is not responsible when His good gifts are twisted, bent, and perverted.

The difficulty arises when we misinterpret the purpose of our inborn “drive for significance.” That’s when we apply it to ends and uses for which it was never intended. We forget that God has made us for relationship with Himself. We ignore the fact that we become who and what we are meant to be only by entering into “mystical union” with Him. This, the Scriptures insist, is the one place where our heart’s desires can be fulfilled. This is the reason for the poignant question the Lord directs to His people in the prophecy of Isaiah:

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, let your soul delight itself in abundance.” (Isaiah 55:2)

The Psalmist states the principle in positive terms: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:3, 4)

Jesus had precisely the same thing in mind when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). If we had no desire for fulfillment, meaning, and significance, we wouldn’t “seek” anything outside ourselves at all.

In the final analysis, then, phrases like “hunger for significance” or “need for self-esteem” are just different ways of describing the “vacuum” at the center of the human heart. That hole can only be filled by the One who created it. “You have made us for Yourself,” writes Augustine in Book I of The Confessions, “and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in You.” We find the same idea in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has put eternity in their hearts.” Man is made in the image of God. For this reason he cannot be content with the mundane, the temporal, and the superficial. He is incomplete until he learns that his purpose and destiny is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” ( The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1).

If you think it might be helpful to discuss your questions at greater length with a member of our team, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


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