Feeling sad is part of life and it can be helpful to share the sad feelings. However, self-pity is one of those emotions that is destructive to us – it draws an unhealthy attention to self. Self-pity is a sin. It produces unrighteous fruit and negatively impacts our relationships with others. Self-pity is one of those emotions that most people really do not like in others.
It is good for our mental well-being to speak about feeling sad or disappointed, or about the challenges, illnesses and issues we face with a select group of others. Sometimes it is even good to speak to a complete stranger – someone to open up to. On the other hand, self-pity causes us to share without wisdom to anyone who will listen.
Jonah is a biblical prophet who allowed self-pity to cause him to miss what God was doing. He eventually obeyed God, delivered the message God gave Him to prophesy to Nineveh, and then became angry when the message lead to Israel’s enemies, the Ninevites, repenting and turning to Yahweh. God responded to their repentance by removing His imminent judgement from their city – He had planned to destroy Nineveh. This displeased Jonah and filled him with self-pity.
Jonah 4, NLT, ‘Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Mercy: 1This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 2So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 3Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
4The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” 5Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. 6And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away.
8And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
9Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” “Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!” 10Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”’
It’s always a challenge to our motives to read this passage. Jonah obeyed God without approving of what God was sending him to do. He did it with a bad attitude – ‘I have no other choice because You are forcing me to do it.’ As a result, although a spiritual Revival broke out which changed the destiny of an entire city, Jonah was not thankful nor did he rejoice in God’s mercy and faithfulness. No – he wallowed in self-pity and was trapped by his own narrow outlook on God’s love and mercy towards another race and different culture than Israel’s.
Self-pity traps people in their own heads, trapped in looking at what God is saying and doing from their own narrow perspective. It drives people to dismiss the troubles of others, or the counter views of others as unfeeling and uncaring – ‘you don’t really care about me.’ It brings everything back to how you feel – it makes people look at you instead of Christ.
Self-pity is also a manifestation of pride. Pride exalts ‘self’ and over inflates our own importance. In biblical terms, pride is always linked to denying the lordship of Christ – His right to demand our belief and obedience, to establish His Kingdom reign in our lives, and to guide our steps.
It hardens our hearts and becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy over our lives. Instead of speaking life-affirming words, the one bound in self-pity speaks self-destructive and faithless words. We stand and fall by our words, and we shape our lives by the words we speak.
God calls us to lay aside self-pity – to see it for what it really is: it is destructive to our souls, bad for our mental and physical health, and leads us into pride and sin.
Jonah is a hero of faith, but he was also a flawed man. Jesus words in Luke 6:35-36, speak of another, better way. ‘“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.’
If you are tempted to self-pity – recognise it is sinful, destructive for your soul, and is a bad witness to your own spiritual maturity. We want to be good ambassadors for Christ. The world says complain about and vent your troubles – God’s word says cast your worries, stress and problems on God in prayer.
1 Peter 5:6-11, TPT, ‘If you bow low in God’s awesome presence, He will eventually exalt you as you leave the timing in His hands. 7Pour out all your worries and stress upon Him and leave them there, for He always tenderly cares for you.
8Be well balanced and always alert, because your enemy, the devil, roams around incessantly, like a roaring lion looking for its prey to devour. 9Take a decisive stand against him and resist his every attack with strong, vigorous faith. For you know that your believing brothers and sisters around the world are experiencing the same kinds of troubles you endure. 10And then, after your brief suffering, the God of all loving grace, who has called you to share in His eternal glory in Christ, will personally and powerfully restore you and make you stronger than ever. Yes, He will set you firmly in place and build you up. 11And He has all the power needed to do this—forever! Amen.’
Our enemy, the Devil wants to devour our lives. Self-pity is one of the weapons he uses against us. Our suffering may be terrible, but in the light of eternity it is only brief. In Christ, we are made stronger than before – even while we still walk through life suffering and in pain: physical, mental, emotional or relational pain. His grace is sufficient.
- Self-pity opens the door for Satan, is bad for our personal testimony, and draws us into spiritual darkness.
- Being wise and sharing our sadness, pain, problems and anxieties with a few trusted, wise Christian brothers and sisters is good for our mental well-being
- Being careful not to step into self-pity will protect us and enable us to live thankful, grateful and Christ-honouring lives
- There is a boundary line between wise, healthy sharing and complaining – and stepping into self-pity. Ask God to guide you so that you do not step over than line.
The Psalms are so helpful and are full of words of complaint by the writers. We can learn these Psalms and use them to bring our complaints, suffering and pains before God with an open, humble, reverent, thankful and faith-filled attitude.
Father, we pray today for anyone caught in the trap of self-pity – grant them the gift of repentance leading to deliverance and victory, through the cross of Christ, over the malignant power behind self-pity. We pray for insight and revelation from Your word to protect us all from this prideful sin.
We proclaim that when we speak wholesome, affirming and faith-filled words – these words open the door to Christ’s light and life, and create the opportunities for Your power and grace to act in and through us. We ask for the Spirit’s fullness to enable us to live thankful, gratitude-filled lives. In Jesus’ name and for His glory. Amen