What if you went to the doctor because you couldn’t sleep and he told you that your problem was that you sleep too much? “You’re sleeping two hours a night? That’s your problem! You need to sleep no more than 10 minutes a day,” he says as you nod off in his office. Or, what if you went to a nutritionist because you want to eat better and she told you that your biggest problem was an over-emphasis on healthy eating. “Eat more doughnuts and candy,” she said. “And fried stuff. Cram that in more often,” she adds, as you nod your head in disbelief. We have a hard time understanding, and rightfully so, when the problem is held up as solution. Or, do we? Not really. At least, not when it comes to the whole idea of “loving yourself.”
Now, before you run to fire off a rebuttal to me, listen for a second. I am not suggesting we need to hate ourselves. Not at all. But the truth is, what the Bible holds up as a big problem, our culture has embraced as a golden solution to nearly every social ill. Google “self-esteem” or “loving yourself” and browse some of the millions of selections that come up. Take a walk through the “self-help” aisle at your local bookstore and read some of the titles that promise to teach you more effective ways to love yourself, to make yourself happy, to ensure you “look out for number one.” It’s a popular theme in music, as in Whitney Houston’s smash hit, “The Greatest Love of All.” Some of the lyrics include, “Because the greatest love of all is happening to me. I found the greatest love of all inside of me … Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” A blogger wrote this about Houston’s song: “Forgive me, but I have the greatest video montage of all in my mind for this. It would include a series of images representative of what is being spelled out here. First you would see a man in a field with his arms wrapped around himself, dancing and leaping for joy. Then you would see a man in a straight jacket embracing himself in a mental institution. Then the scene would shift to a woman holding flowers, boldly proclaiming that she bought flowers for herself because she deemed herself more than worthy. The video then would conclude with a recent news story about a woman who recently proposed to and married herself with many emotional onlookers” (Man in the Woods).
With all due respect to the memory of the late Whitney Houston, the greatest love of all cannot be found “inside of me.” Quite the opposite. Looking inward for hope, help, self-esteem, courage, joy, peace or love is the very thing the Bible teaches us not to do. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul as he writes his last letter to Timothy: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self.” He goes on to describe 17 odious symptoms, things like arrogance, pride, brutality, treachery and more. It’s a nasty sandwich pictured there, with the top piece of bread being “love of self,” and the bottom piece being “not a lover of God.”
That’s the answer. The opposite of self-hatred is not self-love. It is love for God, which produces a healthy love for others. The solution cannot be found “within us.” It can only be found outside of us, the creature, and in him, the Creator.
J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org