Starting from a different place
IT is one of the sad truisms of human life that many people don't like themselves all that much. One suspects that some of the ``after all I'm worth it'' narcissism in popular culture today might simply be concealing the personal disappointment, self-doubt, or even self-contempt people so often carry about in their hearts. Our society is rapidly finding out that drugs and sexual indulgence, far from offering solutions, worsen the problem, and that pop self-help therapies don't provide genuine, lasting answers. In this situation many are turning again to the Bible as the most reliable source for an understanding of the deepening problems of humanity.
The Bible does not shirk the problem of human worth by evasive answers. It confirms our honest recognition that the man or woman we appear to be is very far from what we feel in our hearts God created us to be. And it exposes the simple lack of realism in attempts to improve ourselves through human efforts alone. Yes, we might do better in this or that department. But how often have even our smallest efforts to improve foundered on the truth of Paul's words ``The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do''?1
What the Bible shows us is that any kind of human ``bootstrap lifting'' falls short because it begins at the wrong place. Yet the Bible does not leave us in the pit of worthlessness. It shows us by living example how to think out from the reality of God, rather than up from a fretful, preoccupied image of self.
Actually, beginning only with a personal selfhood we want to improve always brings us to a spiritual dead end, because it shuts out the true sense of our Father's loving presence, in which alone we find our true self. Since spiritual growth must be growth in godliness, it begins not with what we think we are but with what the Bible reveals God to be.
The Bible speaks of God as Love itself.2 Every touch of genuine kindness, of the unselfish love of others, that you or I have ever felt has a spiritual source. It's the love of God reflected in us. Feeling this love, we know that the Love which is its source is not passive but active. Yes, we may feel in moments of desperation and self-doubt that we have lost sight of Love. But the God who is Love has never lost sight of us.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, speaks of God as ``that Love which is faithful, an ever-present help in trouble, which never deserts us.''3 These words, illumining the Biblical sense of God, show where to begin: not with what our limited human selfhood appears to be, but with what God, Love, is. Then we find ourselves thinking in an entirely new way because we are starting from a different place.
To take this step is within our grasp. It's forwarded by prayer and by a deep desire to discern the things of Spirit, and it has a much more momentous effect than we may have supposed. When we begin with what God is, we at the same time get clearer views of what we really are, and our thoughts and acts come into greater harmony with what God created us to be: His image, as the Bible teaches.
What then happens to that ``old'' self that feels such perpetual guilt and worthlessness? To begin with, it starts becoming more and more irrelevant. We find we are identifying with it less and less because we are no longer identifying it as ourselves. Eventually we see it was never the fixed entity we had supposed, but only a false image we are by no means obligated to live out.
Whether we think ill of that self or well of that self is not nearly so important as whether we are thinking in terms of it. That's exactly the kind of thinking we most need to be regenerated from. If we have been thinking in those terms, we can turn with great gratitude to the new option that Biblical Christianity provides. In contradistinction to this sinful self-centeredness, the Bible turns us to the actual presence of God. It shows us that, in Mrs. Eddy's words, ``God is at once the centre and circumference of being.''4
It shows us, too, that obediently acknowledging Him and striving, step by step, to express His pure nature bring forth a new self. This is the authentic spiritual selfhood of each one of us, which being free from sin is free to have a God who is really God -- to be His witness, to act as the expression of Love.
1Romans 7:19. 2See I John 4:8. 3The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 167. 4Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 203-204. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright. Ecclesiastes 7:29