The Siren Call of Self-Love
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 18 April 2021
Everyone seems to be looking for it. When I ministered as a peacemaker to people struggling in conflict or with personal problems, I saw everywhere the same desperate seeking for love. Wives want to be cherished. Husbands want to be respected. Children want attention.
The hunger of our hearts is echoed by the character Much-Afraid in the allegory Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. The young maid in the story sought assurance from the Shepherd that she would be loved before agreeing to start on the perilous journey to the Kingdom of Love. She had a deep longing to learn to love supremely one person who would love her in return. But, alas, when she looked at herself she wondered how a cripple with an ugly face would ever find love. What would you tell such a person?
Many would encourage poor, pitiful Much-Afraid to satisfy that desire, at least in part, by loving herself. Moreover, she needs to put away negative thinking and recognize the beauty she really possesses. The counsel from many self-help sources reassures us that God encourages such self-love. In light of Paul's prophecy that self-love would characterize the last days (2Tim 3:2), this popular advice warrants examination.
Perhaps the most frequently cited reason for self-love is that God supposedly commands it based on the injunction, first given to Israel, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18). The command was then repeated by Yeshua (Matt 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27), as well as Paul (Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14) and Jacob, the Lord's brother (Jas 2:8). Take a moment and look at this command. Read it again. Who is the object of the imperative verb, "love"? Answer, "your neighbor." There is no verb directing love toward self. Some point to the word "as" for proof of a divine expectation of self-love. However, the word "as" is an adverb, not a verb. With this adverb the command focuses on the idea of a pattern or model. In other words, "as" presumes that self-love already exists.
Many counselors seem to believe there is a large segment of society with little or no self-love. Can this be true? Listen again to the Scriptures. "No one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it" (Eph 5:29 NIV). Consider your own life. We pamper ourselves. We eat, we sleep, we bathe, we give attention to our appearance, we exercise, we clothe ourselves, we entertain ourselves and much more. We do love ourselves. Consider how much of your time is spent pursuing activities for your personal health and welfare, and you'll begin to get a measure of your current self-love. Human beings, including believers, are slight in comparison to God (Isa 40:17; Dan 4:35; 2Cor 12:11; Gal 6:3). Job learned this lesson the hard way and repented, despising himself for being presumptuous (Job 42:6).
Since people can't elevate themselves, they resort to the futile task of comparison with others in order to make themselves into something (2Cor 10:12). When others don't recognize this "self-evident" somethingness, low self-esteem, actually resentment or bitter envy, results (Jas 3:13-26). We are certainly worth more than sheep (Matt 12:12) and sparrows (Matt 10:31). Taking the redemption values set in Leviticus 27:1-8 and factoring the Jerusalem market value of sparrows (Matt 10:29), the average human would be worth no more than 6,400 birds. Still, God loves us (John 3:16), not because of our great worth but in spite of our worthlessness (Rom 3:9-12; 5:8). His grace is indeed amazing.
Self-love has been rationalized from David's praise of God's creation, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps 139:14 NIV) or to quote a modem paraphrase, "God don't make no junk." Some say self-praise is called for since God crowned man with glory and honor, making us only lower than angels (Ps 8:5). Yet, David's contemplation didn't lead him to self-praise. In fact, he wondered why God cared about him at all (Ps 8:4; 144:3).
David marveled that God should bless him and his posterity (1Chr 17:16-17). Was David a victim of low self-esteem and "worm theology?" (cf. Isa 41:14; Ps 22:6). Not at all! David knew the truth and humbled himself before the holy God. His praise directs our attention to God. David had nothing to do with his own conception or his selection as king, and he lived in awe of the mighty God who creates life and blesses His people.
We were made to be full of fear and full of wonder toward our Creator. Just as in the garden, Satan continues to twist the Word of God to tempt us to draw attention to ourselves instead of glorifying God. Modern rationalizations for a cheap self-love don't ring true. Moreover, Yeshua challenges narcissism when He confronts us with the saying, "The one loving his soul loses it; and the one hating his soul in this world will keep it into eternal life." (John 12:25 BR).God loves us, not because of our great worth but in spite of our unworthiness. Our problem is not too little self-love but too much.
The plan of God is that we would die to ourselves that Messiah may live in us. To love as Yeshua did on the cross without promise of being loved in return would be agony to the cheap self-love of our culture. As the Shepherd told Much-Afraid, "To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain." As the young maid surrendered herself to the Shepherd's care, she walked through painful moments, but she received in full measure the love for which she had always longed.
Copyright © 2021 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.