17 March 2017
We’re doing great! Aren’t we?
Helen Thorne is director of training and mentoring at London City Mission.
The results are in. The statistics published. And, if the research carried out by Goldsmith's professor Jonathan Freeman is anything to go by, we humans think we're a pretty nice bunch!
Far from being dogged by low self-image, or a cultural tendency towards self-effacement, 98 per cent of this psychologist's interviewees thought they were in the top 50 per cent of "good people". An amazing 90 per cent thought they were in the top 50 per cent of "safe drivers". A similar study in the States revealed that the majority of people think they look more like a tastefully air-brushed picture of themselves than photos showing a true likeness.
The general opinion of human beings? We're doing great!
It's important to remember that, at the opposite extreme, others do see themselves as far worse than they truly are – taking on guilt and shame that is not rightly theirs – the anguish such low self-worth brings should never be under-estimated or ignored. But, for many, it seems the "I'm fine as I am" lie is holding sway. The culture of comparison comes easily, even if experience shows it doesn't bring fulfilment.
Of course, it's not just culture at play. It's a heart issue, too. Most of us want to think well of ourselves, we want to believe that we're doing ok: measuring up, staying ahead of the crowd. And choosing to compare ourselves to other people rather than the perfect standards of the Lord provides us with a far easier measuring-stick.
That shouldn't surprise us – since the fall, we have all tended to compare and to have a skewed self-image – but the implications are wide. Such an approach to life makes it easy for non-Christians to bat away talk of sin, to assume there is no objective standard, to laugh at the thought we might need a saviour. It's an approach that makes it common for Christians to sideline repentance – to draw back from a life where we commit each day to taking off our "old self" and putting on the "new", like we read about in Ephesians 4: 22-24. Matters of salvation and sanctification are at stake.
How important it is to remember, then, that the Lord is not so easily taken in. He sees the heart, not the outward façade (Psalm 139). Before His perceptive and grace-filled gaze, we are laid bare and the stark reality is we are sinners whose only hope is grace... The good news, of course, is that grace is available in abundance. Christ's forgiveness – his righteousness – freely available to all who turn to him in repentance and faith. There is no need for us to be ashamed.
Maybe Lent is a good time to reflect on that? Rather than being part of the 98 per cent assuming we're doing great, or the two per cent feeling we're without hope, maybe we can see ourselves as we truly are? (Ephesians 1 is a place to start). Maybe this month is a moment to ask ourselves how often we let our friends - believers or not - think that they are fine just the way they are, rather than spurring them on to something better? (Hebrews 10:24 is a wonderful call).
In short, maybe we can dwell afresh on the truth of Romans 12:3 and the freedom it brings: "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you."