Thursday, August 19, 2010

Loving Yourself, Forgiving Yourself

There is a tendency today to talk about loving yourself and forgiving yourself. Even some Christians like to say that these are the most important parts of turning your life around. Some go so far as to say that the Christian teaching that God loves us and God forgives us are valuable precisely because it leads us to love ourselves and forgive ourselves. This is a new idea. If you look through scripture and tradition you don't see any emphasis on loving yourself or forgiving yourself. There is one verse that talks about loving your neighbor as yourself that is sometimes twisted into a command to love yourself but it basically isn't there.

It does not make a lot of sense either. Can you forgive yourself when you sin? If I punch you in the nose and then tell you that I have forgiven myself, does that make sense? Don't I need forgiveness from the one I have offended? Now as a Christian I can say the one who I have truly offended is God. You are a child of God. David says in Psalm 51:4, "Against you, you only, have I sinned". He is talking about the incident where he slept with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed. But all the sins he committed against people were really sins against God first and foremost. They need to be loved and respected because they belong to God. So God has the right to forgive me if I punch you in the nose. My relationship with you still needs to be managed. You may or may not forgive me. God's forgiveness matters more. Still I cannot forgive myself.

What about loving myself? I can do that. But I can do that for the wrong reasons. I can love myself because I am rich or because I am smart or because I am funny. It's better than hating myself but it is still problematic. If I get my self worth tied up with my money or my intellect or my sense of humor then that becomes my god. I won't respect those who don't measure up according to what I believe is the source of human dignity.

Loving yourself implies that you have the authority to declare yourself good. But you don't. So people look for reasons why they are good. The most common is to do it by comparing yourself to other people. I am good because I am better than most guys by this measure. But you have to knock others down to lift yourself up. But if God declares you to be good then you don't need to know anybody down. If fact you can't because God declares them to be good as well.

One more thing, the source of your self worth will always be the one thing you will never part with. You will do anything to avoid losing it. If that thing is God that  is very good. If that thing is money or reputation or good looks it can be very bad. So having this right is no small matter. Love yourself but base that love on God's love for you. Any other foundation can crumble.

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