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Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40
A great place to begin is by going back to the Garden of Eden before sin when our love was pure, and we loved all things because there was nothing not to love.
You could say that Adam loved himself because you can’t believe that Adam hated himself. It is hard for us, post-fall, (Genesis 3:6) to perceive how “loving yourself” could be right and pure, but “pre-fall creatures” could only love themselves purely because it could not be any other way.
Our problem is that we live in a post-fall world, so our “love for ourselves,” unlike Adam and Eve, is convoluted at best. Regardless, it is still wrong to hate yourself, hence the “assumption” from the great commandment in Matthew 22:36-40 that you do love yourself (in the purest way that you can and should love yourself as a fallen creature).
Jesus could not be talking about an impure love of yourself because He would never say you should love yourself from a sinful perspective, motive, or desire.
If you’re thinking rightly about God and yourself, you should not hate yourself, whether it’s during the pre-fall with Adam and Eve or the post-fall with the rest of us. If you hate yourself, there is heart-work to do. Hating yourself or sinfully loving yourself are both wrong.
I do realize the lines are woefully blurred–post-fall–between loving ourselves the right (biblical) way versus “over-loving ourselves” in the wrong way. We all are tempted easily to love ourselves the wrong way, which is why the culture has a “self-esteem gospel.” What would you expect God-rejectors to propagate?
If you remove the Bible from your worldview, which they have done, the primary thing a fallen person would be motivated to do is self-love. Plus they would teach us that to experience wholeness, we must love ourselves, according to their interpretation of love. Of course, that kind of love is narcissistic.
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But let’s say a person is regenerated. If so, he will fight against hating himself because he knows that God created him in His image (Genesis 2:7). He would always strive to reverse the curse.
It would be sacrilegious to “hate yourself” because you would hate, albeit unwittingly or passively, your Creator. If you hate the painting, you’re making a hateful commentary about the Painter. The newly minted regenerated person is shaking off the worldly way of thinking about the self-centered love that drives him inward to a morbid and deteriorating self-love.
And depending on the consequences of the horrific shaping influences that have complicated his soul, like an angry father or other demeaning authority figures, he will have a hard time coming to a biblio-centric way of loving himself. And when he does get to this biblio-centric sweet spot, he will be able to export a similar kind of (biblical) love to others.
I love you biblically as I love myself biblically.
But because of a lack of sinless perfection, he’ll always struggle with the warping “shame-shaping-effects” that his unique “Adam-ness” and other mean people have put on him. He will have to fight continuously against over-sensitivity that tempts him to be offended and angered, which are defensive postures, or angling for the favorable opinions of others, which will be proactive manipulations.
Without active repentance, he will not be free, but always in the bondage to self-love that will descend into controlling other people to always make sure that he lives in a carefully governed environment that steers all good opinions toward himself.
He must “go back to the Garden,” realizing that God created him in the best possible image and that there is nothing to hate, other than his sin (Romans 7:24-8:1).
And as he is doing this, he must be able to be on guard against the tendencies that tempt him to turn the “Imago Dei” into a self-centered love that has less concern for others and more concern for himself, i.e., protecting his reputation, hiding his shame, or rejecting perceived rejections.