“Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one’s self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote.” –G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p.10
[Southcote was a self-proclaimed but deluded prophetess in late eighteenth century England].
When asked by a publisher friend: “Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?” Chesterton responded after a long pause:
“I will go home and write a book in answer to that question.” Orthodoxy is that book.
I have owned an attractive hardback copy of it for years and have started reading it more than once, but I’ve always gotten weighed down with heights of logic I couldn’t quite scale and paradoxes I couldn’t quite swallow. But Michele Morin of Living our Days has resolved to get through her copy this year which was just the encouragement I needed to attempt the same. So I’m back at it, hoping to share tidbits here of the parts I think I understand and hoping to gain greater understanding in the process!
As for Chesterton’s statement about self-confidence, it is just the sort of thing Chesterton delights in. In his writing he seems to push common thinking to its extreme in order to show how implausible it is. Sometimes I find myself nodding in agreement; other times his case seems exaggerated and I find myself frustrated, or to use a more apt word: ‘flummoxed’. How can I disagree with such a brilliant man? What am I not understanding? Has he overstated his case or is it my thinking that is contorted?
In this case I’m glad to concur with Chesterton on the foolishness of self-confidence, even if it is a virtue the world holds dear, and one I sometimes bemoan missing in my own personality. Scripture is full of admonitions to beware of where our hearts may lead us and to always cling to God for understanding and direction. It seems that we humans were not designed to rely on ourselves but on our Creator. Any measure of apparent ‘self-confidence’ must be grounded in ultimate God-reliance or we’re in for trouble. The human heart is a wily thing to manage apart from divine intervention.
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? Jer 17:9 NLT
Among frequent heart-related admonitions in Scripture I see none that commends a self-confidence that plunges ahead following one’s own heart. Instead I read:
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. —Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them. —Serve only the LORD your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him.—Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. —’You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’— Show love to the LORD your God by walking in his ways and holding tightly to him. —Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Prov.4:23 NASB; Deut.11:16 NASB; Deut.13:4 NLT; Mt 6:21 NLT; Mt. 22:37 NLT; Deut. 11:22 NLT; Prov. 3:5 NLT
Fortunately there is a change of heart made possible by God’s Spirit to the humble and repentant Somebody who rests his case with Christ (See: Rom.2:29; 10:9; I Tim.1:5), resulting in a testimony like this one:
The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Ps. 28:7 NLT
This is the best sort of confidence to have. May it be the true testimony of my own heart!
I can’t close without tucking in a poignant illustration from Jeremiah that brilliantly depicts what Chesterton has said about the folly of self-confidence.
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jer.17:5-8 NLT
I wanna be that tree!
Here’s the link to Michele Morin’s first in a series of monthly posts drawn from Orthodoxy by G.K.Chesterton, Harold Shaw Publ.,2001