I remember the first time I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw.
I was eleven years old, and just entering the world of braces and acne scars. I was so insecure about my appearance I completely changed my diet, cutting out all dairy, gluten, sugar, and processed foods to tame my struggle with my body. I taught myself not to open my mouth when I smiled so no one could see the wires on my teeth. I was constantly thinking about how others might perceive me, which caused me to appear sullen and shy to those I didn’t know.
If someone ignored me, I was sure it was because she hated me. If someone spoke to me, it must be because she felt sorry for me. And no matter how much I tried to appear different, to change myself, or cause others to accept me, the little voice inside always said I would never be enough.
Self-hate is a terrible thing. It is a constant look inward. Shriveling disappointment beneath your own glaring eye. Condemnation brought upon yourself, even if it is not echoed by the lips of others.
This has always been a struggle for me. I hate myself for how I feel, how I look, what I’ve done, what’s been done to me, what I’ve failed to do. I hate myself when I sin, and when I do good without the right motives. I hate myself when I’m angry and bitter, and for the times I am kind and feel “fake”. I hate myself for reasons I can’t even identify.
But what I’ve discovered, is that this isn’t just an issue of “low self-esteem”, from which I must extricate myself by yanking up on my own bootstraps. Nor is this just a “sin thing”, to repent and turn away from. This is a sin, but more so, it is a struggle – an arduous, painful, terrifying struggle – in which I am striving to redeem myself.
THE GOSPEL FOR SELF-HATERS
Perhaps one of the most difficult things for believers to remember, is the Gospel itself.
It seems strange that this is the case. After all, it is by believing the Gospel that we are saved. The Gospel is what sets us apart as chosen by God. It is our core of faith, our foundation of joy, our root of hope, our well of confidence, our rock of assurance. It is the truth for which the Reformers lived and died – by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
But deep within, we as believers are still legalists at heart, striving to save ourselves through self-enforced perfection.
Intellectually we know and believe the Gospel, but we are still living as idolatrous Demi-gods, atheistic condemners of ourselves, heaping up our own petty judgment against our heinous sins, and preaching to ourselves a self-help Gospel.
We are looking to a corrupt standard. We are worshipping a false god. We are trusting in the wrong savior. As created beings, we are always worshiping something, and we are always listening to the voice of what or whom we worship.
One of the ways I found this was in my struggle with food. When I changed my diet as a young teenager, it was not because I loved my body and was striving to be as healthy as possible, but because I hated my body and was striving to subject it to a perceived perfection. Food became the “problem”, but food also became the savior. It was the one place I could find temporary comfort, either in indulging inordinately when my cravings became too strong to control, or when I won the battle and forced my appetite beneath my feet, giving myself the false assurance that I was in control of both my flaws and my perfection.
My self-condemnation became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In an ugly mini-cycle of loss and redemption, I was flouting the Gospel of Christ and shirking His promises. I was my Gospel – slowly being crushed beneath another Cross.
THE GOSPEL FOR SELF-SAVERS
Self-condemnation – whether it is for what I eat, or what I look like, or what I wear, or what I feel, or what I do – ultimately comes down to one root: a loathing of my own failure.
My failure to have the perfect body. My failure to attain the highest education. My failure to have a satisfying job. My failure to find and be accepted by the perfect mate. My failure to be a good Christian.
I loathe my wickedness. I am bad; I am condemned; I am hated. I am exposed, exploited, vulnerable, and strange. I despise my unworthiness, my uncleanness, my ugliness. And slowly, bit by bit, with all my self-loathing, and self-hating, and self-helping, I will self-dehumanize. I will degrade myself, invalidate myself, and shrivel myself, until the part I hate becomes all that I am. I am a failure, so all I shall do, is fail.
There was one period so low that I tortured myself, not with the thought that God hadn’t saved me, but that He had. Christ had died for me – I who am nothing, who am worthless, who have failed in every way a human being can fail. I am such a pitiful example of a Christian. Why had He wasted His blood on me? Why can’t I make His death worth it?
But that is why the Gospel is such good news to sinners, for Christ’s death was only for the unworthy. Christ died for sinners, for outcasts, for failures. “For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from him, but has heard when he cried to Him” (Psalm 22:24).
We are beloved. We are cared for. We are accepted. We are saved. Not because we are not sinners, but because we are sinners who have been redeemed. Not because we never fail, but because He has taken our failure upon Himself, and clothed us with His own perfection. We must not condemn ourselves, for God Himself has pronounced us justified.
THE GOSPEL FOR SELF-CONDEMNERS
God is the only escape from self-hatred. He is the only Savior of self-haters. But often, though I understand this intellectually, I cannot stop feeling condemned. How can God, who knows my innermost thoughts, my secret sins, my deceptive, wicked heart, not condemn me as I have already condemned myself?
Christian author and theologian, Ed Welch, was recently interviewed on Desiring God in reference to his book on this topic: Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection.
In the interview, Tony Reinke asked the same question: “What would you say to those who struggle with self-hate, especially outside the Church, who assume the worst thing in the world for a self-hater to ever do is to believe in God, because He would only condemn them and fuel their self-hate further. What would you say to this person?”
Welch replied simply: “Your idea of God is my idea of the devil.”
He explained: “You are viewing God the way that the Scripture portrays Satan: this relentless, accusatory, hard master who means ill for you and is always there to scold you. And that is not the God of the Bible.”
Yes, God is just. Yes, God hates sin. Yes, He hates rebellion against His perfect law. Yes, in His righteousness and holiness, He condemns, He damns, He destroys.
But this is also the God who, by His grace, called you into His created story. This is the God who humbled Himself and came in human flesh. Weak believer, God Himself became weak and sympathizes with our pain. Sinful believer, Christ has been tested in all ways like as we are yet without sin, and through His blood, has brought us before a throne of grace, with a well of forgiveness that runs deeper than our trespasses. Christ has loved us while we were yet unlovable. He has accepted us while we were still unacceptable. He has declared us righteous while we were yet in sin.
THE GOSPEL FOR SELF-DOUBTERS
The self-hater who has been clothed in Christ’s righteousness has been given new eyes with which to see, a new mind with which to think, a new heart with which to believe, a new Savior to whom to cling.
Though this is still a struggle I am facing, one of the major turning points for me in this battle was a sermon by Pastor Ian Hamilton in which he stated: “The best proof that God will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.”
All of a sudden, I understood.
“The best proof that God will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.”
God has loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). He has redeemed you with an eternal salvation. He has resurrected you to a never-ending hope.
Go to the one who will never stop loving you. Cling to the one who had no need to begin.