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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Having Self-Esteem Ruins Bible Reading by Jen Wilkin

jen wilkin

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.


I actually have a name for that method [felt need] 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.

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.

— Jen Wilkin, Desiring God, How Self-Esteem Ruins Bible Reading, August 27, 2018


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    I am never going to read Leviticus because it is boring AF so there is that.

    Most Christians who actually regularly read the bible follow the devotional method – they have a little study guide that tells them what verses to read and there is a summary provided giving the “correct” interpretation.

    If my pants don’t fit, reading the bible will do no good; laying off the ice cream will.

    There is so much in the bible telling us that we are pieces of filth. How does that improve our self esteem? And frankly, I got more from the bible about God being a mean, cranky, vindictive old bastard than someone worthy of LOVE.

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    I’ve heard all this before from preachers, but now after deconstruction oh wow do I find it messed up! Telling a person—who is seeking help and guidance from scripture—that they are doing it all wrong, has to be height of arrogance. And it’s almost like she wants women to continue with low self esteem and exhaustion (but we know that’s not true since Christians are so loving and affirming of women…).

    My fundie family made me read Leviticus and Numbers and all the rest multiple times (because Scripture!). Never again thank you very much.

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Bruce Gerencser