Some argue that Jesus' command that we ought to love our neighbors as ourselves presupposes that self-love is ultimate to our purpose as human beings. Just turn on a daytime talk show—any talk show—and you're bound to hear this oft repeated maxim if you listen long enough. But contrary to the popular understanding, I believe Jesus' point is that we already love ourselves. So much so that we are infatuated with self in both narcissistic self-congratulating categories as well as in self-loathing.
But enough about me...what do you think about me?
But far and away, the most difficult person to wrestle the blinders off of in the self-love category is the sad, spiritual moralist (props to Elyse Fitzpatrick for the category). These people don't ordinarily deal with substance addiction as much as addiction to their bad feelings over spiritual failure. I know this sounds jaded, but through several years of pastoral ministry, I have developed a keen sense for these folks and can spot them within minutes. The sad moralist sounds very humble, broken and contrite, but more often than not, they are simply wallowing in pride. One young guy from recovery group comes to mind.
This man had grown up in a Christian household. His dad was a pastor and he'd easily ace a church membership doctrinal exam. He'd struggled with the sins of overindulgence with alcohol and viewing porn and while he did express grief over his sin, what really ate at him was regret for having not made better life choices. If only he'd been more serious about his discipleship, if only he'd served more at the church, maybe he'd be closer to God and have achieved something noble in his life.
On the one hand, many of us can relate to his woes. We feel spiritually inept. We know what the right thing to do is we just can't seem to do it (Romans 7, anyone?) And being in a church environment that exalts morality over forgiveness and grace doesn't help either. This is not to make light of his struggle as we all are inclined to get into a funk from time to time. There are many factors involved in why people lug guilt around. Neither am I saying it's wrong to be sad or even depressed. This is not a judgment as much as an observation—but he was most concerned with himself all under the guise of moral failures and missed opportunities. He couldn't not talk about himself.
Try and convince a binge eater not to think about food, a woman insecure about her appearance to stop comparing herself to others or the most obvious, a drunk to just stop drinking or a self-loathing moralist to look on the bright side. It simply can't be done.
Honesty about the human condition is prerequisite for good news. Until we're able to see that there is indeed a very real problem not just within the world somewhere out there, but within each individual heart, there will be no lasting hope. The good news is that you're not the good news and hope exists outside of yourself and the incessant need to "make lemonade when life gives us lemons." So the obvious question to ask is, now what?
Well, give up and die, that's what.
But for the Lemonade Lifer, even this gets twisted up in off based atta-boy-ism. The call of Jesus to lose your life in order to gain it does not require being more sold out for the cause and getting all your possessions on the lawn for an everything must go yard sale. Losing your life is a call to a kind of death. And that means, at the very least, it's time to shut up about what we must do to be in God's good graces. Give up, die to self, and receive a free gift. Period.
But our incessant spiritual optimism is an addiction to self that requires picking up the club again for another exhausting round of Let's Lick The Human Condition Whack-a-Mole. But this optimism turns back on itself when the discovery is made it's impossible to quit the game. Then as the late, great Gerhard Forde has said, "the addict tries to hide the addiction and puts on a false front. Superficial optimism breeds ultimate despair."
Here's some more good news. There is a way out of the despair. But it'll cost ya. Improving this situation isn't really an option. It's going to take something a little more drastic. You'll have to quit trusting yourself and be willing to die. You see, new life only comes through death and rebirth. God doesn't do successful living seminars. He gets things done through death and resurrection.
If that all sounds a little too heavy, maybe it’ll help to remember that the worst is behind you. You’re already dead! As Saint Paul said:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20