Throughout my blog I make the point that believers should love themselves in response to the Father’s love, because if we don’t love ourselves we are in no position to ‘love’ others as ourselves.
Sometimes, the statement ‘we should love ourselves’ can seem misguided. In a comment to my recent post 6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm, Happy posed this question very thoughtfully; and the ensuing discussion with Marc, one of JesusWOB’s regular readers, resulted in excellent insights and extended across three posts. So I want to share the discussion with you and get your insights as well.
Happy: I cannot help feeling that if we love ourselves, it is selfish. Even though I think not loving yourself and taking care of yourself can lead to serious self-esteem issues and depression. I think the church’s emphasis on how bad we are in our flesh is just wrong. Very wrong.
Tim: Happy, I think I know what you mean: a self-CENTERED love is a selfish love. If that is what you mean, then I agree that loving ourselves in this way is selfish. What I mean by loving ourselves properly is that when we begin to grasp how the Father loves us and values us we begin to see ourselves differently–as someone valuable and worthy of love. This leads to self-esteem and should result in less self-destructive behavior; we care more about ourselves.
This is the opposite result of what some of us learn from those who tell us how terrible and worthless we are–like worms or filthy rags. Truly loving ourselves in light of the Father’s love should not lead to self-centeredness but to wishing the best for ourselves and others–including those who hurt us.
Chas: Tim, Happy’s question shows a need for balance. We should love ourselves, but not more than we love other people; i.e. we should not put ourselves first (which, as you say is self-centered love). This shows that the ‘as’ in the phrase ‘love others as we love ourselves’ is important: it shows the need for this balance. As you have pointed out, self-esteem is very important, because low self-esteem can lead to self-destructive behavior, but also to self-aggrandizement, which is destructive towards other people.
Tim: Wow Chas! You get a gold medal! You expressed this so well and so succinctly. I want to mention my favorite phrases from your comment but I love every single phrase. Thanks for sharing!
Chas Comments on a Second Post
Chas: Tim, of course, for those who have difficulty in knowing what they should do to love others as they love themselves, there is the more straightforward: do to others as you would wish them to do to you.
Tim: Chas, you are absolutely right! This is the key–unless what one thinks one wants is to be hurt in some way, which raises a separate issue.
The Discussion Continues on a Third Post
Chas: Tim, the thing that was occupying my mind as I read through the post and these responses to it was: how are we going to enable people to love in a Godly way? The only answer that I can provide is to tell them the Good News, so that they can be brought into the Presence of God and learn from Him. The Good News, as I understand it, is that we were all always separated from God and can only come into His Presence by believing that Jesus was His Son – nothing more, nothing less, but who can accept it?
Tim: I think you are right Chas. I would summarize the good news this way:
1. When we feel alienated from God, it is good news to learn that he is not alienated from us. He is not angry or vindictive; in fact he loves us individually very much. This leads to reconciliation.
2. When we are twisted with selfishness, hate, low self-esteem, and self-destructiveness, it is good news to learn that we can love ourselves properly and love others as well. These are both acts of reconciliation.
3. When we are burdened by legalistic rules and the constant failure to measure up, it is good news to learn that the Father is not interested in religious rules but in our loving one another with good will for everyone.
4. When we are fearful of death and the end of our existence, it is good news to learn that there is provision for an afterlife of peace, joy, and happiness.
I believe when we begin to grasp these elements of good news, we will naturally wish to do our best in treating other people well.
My Question to You
So what do you think about believers loving themselves?
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The purpose of this blog is to support those re-evaluating traditional religious beliefs.