Have you ever failed to walk by faith? Have you ever fallen and felt as if you would never get back up? If not, please click off this page. There’s nothing for you to see here.
And you’ll make the rest of us feel bad.
Not long ago, I confessed that a healthy sense of self-loathing can be a good thing when we fail to overcome the Resistance in our walk of faith. [ See my post To All Those Who Just Want to Quit ] Our anger at ourselves in those times of frustrated failure can and should be a very good thing that moves us to action. But we must also be careful that our self-loathing, our anger at our failure, doesn’t lead us to even more destructive options.
In short, we must be willing and able to get over our bad self if we’re going to keep moving forward.
Two Terrible Options
When we reach that point of anger at ourselves for falling short of the glory of God to which we’ve been called, we can respond in two self-destructive ways. These deceptive responses simply continue our slide into the abyss of failure — but they make us think that we’re actually doing something about it. Tricky, I know.
- Pride. We’ve all been here before. Anyone who has ever tried to push through the Resistance within to achieve success in anything has felt this temptation. When we come face-to-face with the reality of our failure, we often embrace the belief that our failure is unique, that our mistake is the greatest disaster ever, that we are sooooo bad that ___________________. We sound like the Psalmist in Ps. 73 who says essentially “Oh sure, God is good to his people! You betcha’. But as for me, well, I’m really an exceptional basket case, so….” The psalmist’s solution to getting over his bad self? He went to the house of the Lord. It was there that he got the right perspective. We tend to think like him that of all the failures in the world, we are the best — I mean, the worst. See how it’s tricky? We think we are the best at being the worst. And that makes us kind of special — in a dark, twisted sort of way. But at least it’s something. If we’re not careful, that pride in being bad can easily lead us to the second terrible option.
- Penance. Because we are the worst, after all, we feel we must inflict punishment on ourselves that is worthy of our exalted status. We become like God, knowing good an evil and dispensing justice on our bad self accordingly We might not scourge ourselves with a physical whip, but we engage in self-destructive behaviors all the same. We play video games, piddle in the garden, or find other mundane things to do instead of tackling that creative vision He’s given us. But at least we feel horrible about it. We reach for substances to dull our senses. We grab a second bowl of ice cream. We find some way to hurt those close to us. We mentally pummel ourselves until our self-loathing is satiated. For now. Yet I can’t help but think that throughout the vicious emotional beating we give ourselves, that our heavenly Father is crying.
We easily forget that our failure is not ultimately against ourselves, but against Him, a holy God. We’ve fallen short of His standard which is infinitely higher than our own. He alone decides what is or is not sufficient to fulfill His glory. “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Ps. 100) The harsh reality is that the best of our allegedly righteous deeds can never cut it. And that’s the good news.
There’s no way we could be good enough. There’s no way He could NOT be good enough.
Towards a Faith-based Anger
It’s the simple truth that Martin Luther embraced in the midst of his own quest for penance: “The just shall live by faith.” In the midst of our self-loathing, we must live with confidence in what we know to be true instead of in what we’re feeling at our weakest moments. The wisdom of Solomon says it well, “Confidence in an unfaithful man… is like a broken tooth and foot out of joint. ” Ouch! Exactly. When we are that unfaithful person, the harder we bite down, the more it hurts The more vigorously we try to walk, the more we wince. And we think we’re fixing the problem because we feel pain.
We rightly get angry when we settle for false positives, those shabby substitutes for God’s best for us. But if we’re not careful, our very anger at ourselves for settling can itself become a shabby substitute for the best God has for us. Our self-loathing can become a powerful rip tide, a passionate current that sucks us out to sea when we fail to respect the danger and channel it in the right direction.
Our anger at our bad self must lead us to a place of contrite humility before a gracious God. He already knows we are abysmal failures. He loves us anyways. He already knows we fail repeatedly. He loves us anyways. He already knows our next abysmal performance. He loves us anyways. Our path of repentant humility must lead us to where mercy flows freely, forgiveness washes our sin away, and we set out yet again, renewed and empowered to do battle with the Resistance — this time with our eyes firmly set on the Author and Finisher of our faith!
Do you ever find yourself being proud of how bad you are? What self-destructive behaviors do you tend to do and what tips have you discovered for fixing our eyes on Jesus instead?
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