I’m currently working on a sermon on Nebuchadnezzar and Pride. You read that right, a sermon. Never in a million years did I think I’d be doing such a thing. Discovering my brother’s atheism has pk-callout me down a very interesting path. The intersection of Christian Apologetics and homiletics (the study or the art of preaching) has really captured my interest as of late. More on that later. This post will be an opportunity for me to jot down some of my thoughts so far on the topic of Pride.
We all have our vices, mine is Pride. It’s something I’ve always dealt with but wasn’t quite sure how bad I had it. I kinda thought, “Yeah, I know I’m prideful but it’s not so bad because a lot of it is warranted.” That’s literally what I thought. “Pride is bad, but the things I’m prideful about are often true and so I don’t really need to take Pride seriously.” Writing this out makes it abundantly clear how prideful my thinking has been. Pride is, at it’s root, a form of insanity. That’s what we learn from the case of Nebuchadnezzar (who, by the way, was a real historical figure).
Daniel 4 is the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s (second) dream and Daniel’s interpretation of it. The dream itself depicts a massive tree whose branches provide shade and fruit for the entire known world. Suddenly, an angel swoops in and chops it down. Worried by what the dream might mean, he calls for Daniel to provide an interpretation. Daniel warns Nebuchadnezzar of what will happen if he doesn’t repent and change his ways.
Ole’ Nebby must not have taken him too seriously since 12 months pass and he’s changed nothing. He’s sitting up in his palace one day remarking on how awesome he is and then all at once the dream becomes a reality. God humbles Nebuchadnezzar in the form of insanity. We’re told that Nebuchadnezzar behaves and acts like an animal for “7 times.” During this period–which could be anywhere from 7 months to 7 years–Nebuchadnezzar literally eats grass like an ox. He thinks he’s an animal.
The Path to Happiness
We know that mental disorders like this are typically due to a kind of physical imbalance in the brain. There’s actually a psychiatric syndrome that involves thinking one is an animal called Clinical Lycanthropy. What’s interesting is that it’s often associated with other mental disorders like clinical depression. One thing we learn from the story of Nebuchadnezzar is that wealth and power do not necessarily lead to happiness. Jim Carrey, one of my childhood heroes, recently said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
If money, fame, and power aren’t the answer, then what is the answer? People are going to respond in different ways, but the Christian response is, in a word, Jesus. In Jesus we find everything we’ve ever wanted, all of the deepest desires of our hearts are fulfilled. Our longing for ultimate justice, meaning, purpose, beauty, love, happiness, immortality, all of it can be found in Jesus.
Pride as Insanity
God teaches Nebuchadnezzar (and us by extension) that Pride is a form of insanity. Pride is a complete failure to understand that God and God alone is sovereign over the world. He is in charge. God is the author of all that we are, He is the author of all of our talents, our abilities, our relationships, our accomplishments, all of it is directly under the control and sovereignty of God.
Pride is a complete failure to understand that God and God alone is sovereign over the world.
You might be wondering, didn’t Nebuchadnezzar rebuild Babylon? Didn’t he rebuild the Tower of Babel, build beautiful temples and monuments, possibly even build the Hanging Gardens? If Nebuchadnezzar didn’t do all of that, then who did? Let me respond with a question. Did Nebuchadnezzar pick and choose his talents, his leadership skills, his charisma, his charm? Did he pick and choose to be born into a royal bloodline? Did Nebuchadnezzar choose to be born in the 7th century, right at the height of the Babylonian empire?
Tim Keller calls Pride a kind of cosmic plagiarism. Pride looks at the things in life and says, “Yep, I’m the author of that,” when in reality God and God alone is ultimately responsible. God created us, God sustains us in being, God gave us our smarts, our ability to reason, our families, He chose our country and century, all of it is a pure gift from God. Pride overlooks all of this and says, “Nope it’s all me, I’m the author. I built this. I deserve it.”
One of the commentaries I’ve read on Daniel 4 says that Pride seeks to be more than human. In claiming to be the author of what is really a gift from God, we seek to be more than mere men. What does God do? Nebuchadnezzar sought to be more than a man, so God humbled him by making him less than human.
If we think about this for a second, isn’t that insane? Isn’t it insane to claim to be the author of a gift someone gave you? Imagine a person going around today claiming to be responsible for the discovery of America. Only an insane person would do such a thing, yet that is exactly what we’re doing when we claim to be the author of the gifts God has given us. Daniel 4 teaches us that Spiritual Pride is ultimately a form of cosmic plagiarism. Pride seeks to be the author of what is really a gift.
Is There a Solution?
When we take the story of Nebuchadnezzar and Pride seriously, we learn that humility must be given to us. Humility, as with any spiritual gift, is still a gift. Thus, we can’t claim to be the author of humility without succumbing to Pride. What then is the solution?
We learn from this passage that Pride is not something we can do away with on our own. We require something above and beyond ourselves. To be healed of Pride, God has to do it for us. Only God can remove our Pride. Humility, therefore, is an absolute surrender to God’s sovereignty and will over our lives. To really do away with Pride we’ve go to realize and accept two basic truths.
First, we must dispense of our cosmic plagiarism. We must accept with open arms that everything we have, everything we are, is a gift from God. Nebuchadnezzar says it this way: everyone on Earth are but nothing before God. This is a sobering recognition of God’s sovereignty. Second, and this is important, we must accept that we are the recipient of God’s unsurpassable mercy. God didn’t owe Nebuchadnezzar his rationality, he was given 12 months to change his ways. Keller argues that in conjunction with recognizing God’s mercy, we must also come to realize that God owes us nothing. This is why Nebuchadnezzar says no one can say to God, “What have you done?”
All that we have is the result of unadulterated mercy; we are owed nothing. Acknowledging God’s absolute sovereignty over the World is only the first step, we must also accept that we are nothing before God, all that we have is the direct result of mercy. We’ve got to do both. Only then can we be truly healed of Spiritual Pride.