Pride can send people insane. Have you ever watched a proud person and wondered why they do the things they do?
Often they make some of the dumbest decisions, which seem so out of touch with reality that you wonder what drug they are on. Success (or perceived success) can be so intoxicating – and the pride it can generate so powerful – it can lead to the folly and irrationality of insanity.¹
In fact, success and failure can both lead to pride – and both are equally debilitating in the long term. Most of us would know people who are totally enamoured with their successes – and others who seem to glorify and find their identity in their failures. Someone once said to me that success and failure are both imposters; they can both lead to your undoing – and this is particularly true if the end result of either is pride. In that case, they can actually destroy rationality.
Pride, self-confidence and glory are never a good fit for fallen humans.
You can see the evidence of this in Hollywood. Celebrities are glorified out of all proportion – and time after time we publicly see it destroying them. The news is constantly full of stories of the rich and famous blowing out and self-destructing, often in unexpected and shocking ways. We need only to look at Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber to see examples of this. Five years ago, both of these teen-stars seemed well-adjusted, humble kids who were grateful and happy to be able to use their talents to work in an industry they loved. Now, for both of them, the line between fantasy and reality is becoming blurred; they’re both losing control of their affairs; and we can definitely see them both carrying out acts of extreme folly and irrationality. Enter pride… exit sanity.
Humans simply cannot bear the weight of glory – and we weren’t ever meant to. We are designed to glorify one thing and one thing only – and that is our Creator. The Bible constantly shows the consequence of humans who, in the grip of pride, attempt to usurp God’s rightful place and glorify themselves.
You can see this reality in Daniel 4. King Nebuchadnezzar is warned by God in a dream (later interpreted by Daniel) that, unless he turns from his sin and humbles himself before God, he will be destined to eat grass like an ox for seven years. Nebuchadnezzar ignores the warning and a decisive moment occurs in Daniel 4:29-30 as he exults himself:
Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
Nebuchadnezzar’s prideful declaration not only signals the end of his kingship for seven years – he [as his dream foretold] ends up in a paddock eating grass, looking like a crazed animal with matted dreads like eagle’s feathers and finger nails like birds’ claws. In our day, he probably would have ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Pride led him to insanity.
But insanity retreated when humility invaded:
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 honoured 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?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendour returned to me. My counsellors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Humility changed Nebuchadnezzar from a glory hoarder to a glory conduit - and hence the restoration of his former ‘majesty and splendour’ didn’t destroy him the second time around. When Nebuchadnezzar relinquished the ‘fantasy’ that he was the one worthy of exultation and acknowledged that it was God who had established him in his kingdom, God who ‘added greatness’ to that kingdom, and God to whom the glory rightfully belonged, his ‘reason returned to him.’
Exit pride… re-enter sanity.