In pride, King Nebuchadnezzar walked the roof of his palace and looked out over the city, claiming, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30) Before the words left his mouth, God spoke judgment and this king became insane. In stark mental illness, he lived in the fields, ate grass, and became wild in appearance for seven years.
Would modern clinics and hospitals be large enough if that happened to every proud person? Or even to those who were leaders and thought they got where there are by their own glory? Probably not, yet there is still an insanity in pride.
Pride begins in the heart and leaks out as I boast about myself, as if I did whatever I did without any help at all. No one can say that. Even the first steps of a child depend on the encouragement of family and the strength of inherited genes. All skills are perfected with instruction and opportunities to practice. Boasting as if I did anything by myself is nonsense.
The insanity of pride also forgets God. Nebuchadnezzar did that and so do I. The Apostle Paul offers a sharp rebuke. He says, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). That tells me that if it was not for the grace of God, I could not take another breath. To pridefully think and talk as if I have done something or I am responsible for my own success forgets the One by whose power and goodness I am even alive.
Pride also becomes unreasonable. In focusing on ‘me, myself, and I,’ I lose focus on the realities around me. I begin to think only of what will promote my own glory and make me look even better than I already think I am. This self-focus is the primary root of sin, and by pridefully clinging to it, I cannot love and obey God or love my neighbor. All I can think about is, “I want what I want.” Pride is selfish and unloving.
The insanity resulting from pride in Nebuchadnezzar intrigues me. In our world, psychiatrists label almost everything as some form of mental illness. Everything from over-active children to depressed people grieving a loss are in danger of getting their condition labeled. Yet pride? It is not an illness but encouraged! Don’t the mental health experts say that people need to take pride in themselves and in what they do?
This is in sharp contrast to the Bible’s opinion of pride and its consequences. Notice what Nebuchadnezzar said after his descent into living like an animal ended…
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34–35)
When this man’s mental faculties came back to him, he praised and honored God. He realized that God’s kingdom endures (Nebuchadnezzar had lost his kingdom), and the people of the earth were nothing compared to this God who does His own will. No one has the right to question Him or anything He does.
God is God. We are not. He tells us to humble ourselves, yet in that command I recognize I am already low. What He wants is me to realize it, not boast or elevate myself. God is love, holiness, right, true, all-powerful, just. I am none of those things. Whatever I do, it is by His permission, and if what I do is good, that is by His power. By myself, I can do nothing.
Pride is the opposite attitude; God is nothing and I am everything. This is not only the height of arrogance, but a colossal lie. Even writing these words makes my fingers feel weird, as if they are betraying what is right and good. Yet I’m so often guilty of pride, boasting. Elevating myself above others in one thing, but to think that I know more than God --- and I do every time I grumble about the way He rules my life --- I am as guilty as King Nebuchadnezzar. Why does God not take all good things away from me and send me to the fields to eat grass?
There is only one answer; God is gracious and merciful. His love extends beyond my folly. He looks at me through the bloody sacrifice of His Son and sees that my sin is covered. The death angel passes over and I’m given life, His life. I do not deserve even the least of His mercies. There is no place in anyone’s life for the insanity of pride.