St. Augustine began his Confessions with his most basic prayer: “May I know Thee, O Lord, and also know myself.”
Dr. James Houston, founder of Regent College, calls this the double-knowledge. The two kinds of knowing are connected. I don’t really know myself, unless I know God; and I don’t really know God, unless I know myself. They are intertwined.
I’d extend this to say that you can’t love one without loving the other. You can’t love God without loving yourself. And you can’t love yourself without loving God. There is a circle of love that falls apart if any part is removed. My concern here is that it falls apart when we don’t know ourselves as lovable.
One of the plagues of modern society is an over-emphasis on “self-esteem,” which we have removed from an accurate “self estimate.” We’ve created an idea of self-esteem which is unrelated to reality. We give every kid a medal after a race. We refuse to keep score at basketball games and say every kid is a winner (when the kids are keeping score and know that they’ve lost). We post slogans in schools like: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” So. Not. True.
I understand the sentiment. But it’s killing us. Pumping ourselves up with well-intentioned lies doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves. It makes us feel worse. Telling a child she’s awesome when she knows she’s not only makes her question every other positive statement by well-meaning adults. And isn’t “awesome” a pretty high standard to be judged by?
If we were to have an accurate self-estimate, we would see ourselves as sinners. But we wouldn’t stop there. We would also see ourselves as entirely lovable, because we are fully loved by our heavenly Father. Instead of this, though, we opt for trying to think of ourselves as not-sinners who have lots of cool skills. But since the evidence is very much to the contrary — our skills aren’t that great and we do in fact sin quite often — we find it hard to believe the good stuff about ourselves that is in fact true. Even if unasked, the question we carry around inside of ourselves is: How can I be truly be lovable if I’m not the good person I try to think that I am? How can I be lovable if I’m not the pumped up person people say I am.
Thankfully, there is an answer. We are lovable because God loves us.
So, while our culture’s pumped-up self-esteem pops and goes flat, there is an equal and opposite problem among many Christians. Christians often think of themselves as above self-love. But if God loves us, then we are lovable — by God, by others, and even by ourselves.
We don’t even notice it, but an omission of self-love is reflected in our church slogans. So many of them say that what we’re on about, in essence, is “Loving God. Loving People.” Three church buildings I drove past in one week have that as their displayed slogan. One church adds place to its love by adding the third phrase “Loving Corvallis,” which is a nice add. But none of them have the guts or even the inclination to put “Loving Ourselves.” They’d probably think that it’d come across as narcissistic instead of as the good news of the gospel.
But isn’t it true that we are loved by the Great Lover? If it is true, then whatever we’ve done or not done, we are each entirely lovable, because God in Jesus has gone to the utmost in loving us. And that’s something on which to build a life of loving God and others and this world and even ourselves.
In light of this, hear the Word of the Lord from 1 John 4:7-19 —
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Soninto the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. … We love because he first loved us.
There is a circle of love within God’s self — Father, Son, and Spirit loving one another. Similarly, we were created to live in a circle of love with God and others. We short-circuit that circle of love when we try to make ourselves self-sufficient through pumped-up self-esteem or when we remove ourselves from the circle of love, seeing ourselves as the ones who do the loving instead of as loved one who get in on the love God has begun.