In a culture where identity politics rule the public square, I think it is fair to say that we are not very good at objective self-reflection. Like Narcissus, we are captivated with self-image, either loving ourselves without question or hating ourselves without knowing why. Both these flavors of narcissism are products of the Fall, a legacy of man wanting to be his own god, longing to worship himself. In this idolatry we lose the ability to see ourselves as we are, recognize the true source of our brokenness and pursue the only path to sharing in the divine nature.
The modern quest for wholeness has centered on self-esteem. But the folly of this quest is exposed in a decades-long psychological survey which found that American students have more self-confidence and self-esteem than ever, but less ability than students forty years ago. A recent survey of college freshmen showed they are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, while objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s.
Another study observed the same phenomena in math and science. In the study, an average American student with high confidence scored only 551 on a standardized test in which a score of 500 is the statistical norm. The study concluded that while Western students believe that they are doing well in mathematics – they are, in fact, lagging behind other nations. This self-esteem/ability gap was even more pronounced in Europe, where self-identified high achievers averaged scores of 514, barely above the statistical norm.
In contrast students in non-Western cultures, who viewed their abilities as average, consistently outperformed their Western counterparts by a wide margin, averaging scores above 630 on the same test. Even non-Western students with low self-confidence averaged 544. A recent article rightly notes.
This generation was raised to value self-esteem above discipline and achievement. Consequently, students are feeling better than ever about themselves while performing worse. We have become a nation of narcissists.
As tragic as this may be to knowledge and ability, it is absolutely fatal to the soul. Self-esteem hardens us to the reality of our sin and the need for a deliverance completely outside ourselves. Only those who have, as one preacher noted, “a wholesome self-distrust which a glimpse into the slumbering possibilities of evil in our hearts out to give us all,” are able to rightly understand the seriousness of their predicament. This is seen in living color at the Last Supper as painted for us in Matthew’s gospel.
The Passover was one of the most joyous times of the year. Families were gathered, the traditions were observed, the feast was lavish, the old, old stories were recounted, songs were sung. Jesus was gathered with his family – his disciples, ‘The Twelve,’ men who had been with him through thick and thin, for three years of 24 x 7 ministry. As the feast begins, however, Jesus shatters the jubilant mood with a deafening call to self-reflection. “One of you will betray me!” One of the Twelve! Not a Roman, or a Pharisee, or a Sadducee, or a Herodian – one of you will betray me. Men who routinely argued over who was the greatest are now confronted with their own frailty in the face history’s most notorious treachery. At that moment eleven men recognize just how powerful sin can be, but one is hardened. “Surely it is not I, Teacher?” says Judas, refusing to examine himself and come.
How willing are you to see your life through the lens of the gospel? To recognize the absolute despotism of your sin and yet the liberating power of God’s mercy to you in Christ? How willing are you to examine yourself and come? Join us this Lord’s Day, March 17, as we examine Matthew 26:1-35 and consider the gospel’s call to self-examination and redemption. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.