Fatherly care by God

Even imperfect because of the fall, human fatherhood is a picture of God’s fatherhood, of the relationship given by God to creation. That belonging to God as a father is essential to self-esteem.

As a Father, God provides for us [1], and accepts us without any condition. He guides and instructs us with the clear rules of his Word. That sense of security, based on the love he shows for us, contributes to our development. God also suffers from our enstrangment. And he is delighted at our reconciliation with him as in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.

Analogy of being : theological principle of God’s fatherhood

The theological principle of God’s fatherhood or analogy of being is explained by Thomas Aquinas: God reveals himself while taking in account our experience and our limitations. We can think of God as a father, as the source of our existence, or as a shepherd who cares for us.

Although the arbitrariness of certain leaders may damage the image that some have of God as a king, God’s image remains mostly related to his compassion as a father and to his care as a shepherd. A dedicated and honest leader, a father exercising authority with justice and love, a pastor practicing self-sacrifice reflect the components of the divine reality and help to rebuild the distorted images of God given by some fathers.

Content in all circumstances: the life of the redeemed

The letter to the Philippians shows the foundation for right Christian self-esteem, especially for Christians who depreciate themselves. Becoming servants of God [2] gives true freedom, from the slavery of lower masters (sin, death and the world) in the service of Christ.

While acknowledging his guilt, the Christian puts his trust in the promises of God who will perfect the maturation of his Christian life begun with the conversion.
The imprisonment experienced by the apostle Paul is in itself demeaning. But the chains for Christ [3] give him dignity and value. Our self-esteem does not depend on our situation but on the way we let God take advantage of it. To Christians believing themselves useless and irrelevant for service, the apostle points out that God chooses what is weak and foolish [4] according to his criteria and not according to those of the world.

To devalue oneself is not just false modesty but a denial of God’s generosity, which may make us unfit for service. A Christian does not lack gifts or talents [5] but he must discover them and exercise them in a responsible perspective, for the edification of the Church and the witness in the world.

Gifts, humility and genuine worth

Gifts also raise the question of Christian humility. [6] It is not self-disparaging but a just appreciation of others, loved as oneself [7] and recognizing that everything comes from God. Giving new dignity to human nature which he considered worth saving, Christ humbled himself voluntarily, stripping himself of his heavenly glory to come as a servant to our level and then to elevate us to his level.

The cross, the criterion for self-esteem

In the light of Christ cross all that the world can offer sinks into insignificance. [8] Thus it is the only essential criterion for assessing self-esteem or esteem of others.
Paul then opposes self-esteem based on family or national privileges – the righteousness of the fulfilled law – or on personal realizations, and true self-esteem based on faith in Christ, as Jesus himself taught it in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. [9] This does not mean devaluing our works but being freed from the illusion of being able, by our perfection, to buy our ticket to the presence of God. The way he looks at us, and not the assessment by others, builds a balanced self-esteem, independent from works and performances.

To the apostle, worldly notions of self-esteem and self-worth and search for performance are paltry, given the dignity granted by Christ; they may even harm the building up of fair and robust self-esteem. Because the value of the Christian comes from having been called and claimed by Christ. His self-esteem is related to the action of God who has redeemed him through the cross and the resurrection of Christ; and the promise of future transformation in the image of Christ is independent from the world’s evaluation criteria. Trust in God’s love and in the value judgment he passes on us is a guarantee against hopelessness and the sense of helplessness ; it is also an essential component of Christian joy.

The encouragement in Christ: the life of the Church

Empathetic, careful and respectful listening, unconditional acceptance of the person difficult to endure are essential to psychologically understand his problem. The prayer of thanks for the gifts of another, the preaching of encouragement rather than of reproach, give value and courage to the weak and the fragile. Their value before God does not depend on their particular skills, but on their commitment to Christ, the head of a spiritual body whose members esteem each other through their various functions.
Teaching can help giving value to all those who attribute their success to God and their failures to themselves. Although we are undoubtedly sinners, God gives us value. The doctrine of grace is not attempting to humiliate us. It encourages us to value our works and those of others, not to rely on them, but to see them as the fruit of faith, as a gift of God he accomplishes through us, and through them for the good of the Church.

God also teaches and accomplishes his plan through failure, provided that failure is not attributed to false reasons, to a negative self-esteem: “I have failed because I am good for nothing”, but to real and truly useful causes, a differentiation that the leader can help to establish.
Estimating or giving value to a person does not mean condoning his weaknesses and his sin but encouraging him to move forward, by settling on the present and not only on the past, even if the past may give some explanation to the current disorder. Criticism from others, which is difficult to accept but essential to the Christian life, promotes self-examination and growth. As an essential element of the pastoral ministry, a useful and constructive criticism is based on the knowledge of the other; we are criticized by God who knows us. It implies a commitment towards the other – God stands with us to help us accomplishing his plan for us. It falls within the context of the esteem and the valuation of others. Attesting esteem makes oneself more receptive to justified criticism. Criticism is not an end in itself but it helps understanding the reality of sin to make receptive to grace, to help discovering one’s gifts.

The Church is the place where people give value to each other, where everyone gets esteem. It is free of the world’s value criteria. It stems from an New Testament idea that it is the body of Christ. A community that protects its members and takes care of the weaker with concern for the well-being of all, gives everyone dignity and value.
Availability, acceptance, mutual esteem are not always easy. But seeing ourselves both as sinners and as hidden in Christ helps to be sincere and empathic for each other.

C. S.

[1] Mt 6.25-31
[2] Ph. 1.1
[3] Ph 1.13
[4] 1 Co 1.26-29
[5] 1 Co and 4.7 Mt 25.14-30
[6], Ph 2.1-11
[7] Mt 22.35-40
[8] Thomas A Kempis, author in the 15th century of The Imitation of Christ
[9] Luke 18. 10-14.