Summary: Why should we love ourselves? Are we worth loving?
How many of you remember the stories about Narnia? I have learnt about them again fairly recently as my son has become interested in the series. We are reading the Magicians Nephew together at the moment, and Thomas has recently been watching the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on video. If there is one character in that story, other than the witch that we begin by not liking, it is Edmund. Even before he goes into the wardrobe, we know that he is going to be a selfish boy who cares for and loves nobody but himself.
We find a similar character in another of the Narnia books – The Voyage of the Dawntreader. This boy’s name is Eustace and like Edmund, he has a serious problem with being totally self-centred. Everything has to happen for his benefit, nobody except him is important.
I have a special reason for disliking these two characters. I have a cousin who used to be exactly like them and he came to stay with our family one summer when I was young. Eventually, I got so sick of him that I punched him in the nose – just about the only violent act in my life – and made him bleed. In C.S Lewis’s books, Edmund and Eustace eventually changed for the better – largely because of what happened to them, it is possible that my cousin did as well, I don’t know for sure because I haven’t been in touch with him for many years. But I am sure we will all know someone who has not changed as they grew up. These people are just as selfish now as they were when they were children.
Fortunately, you don’t find many people like this in Church, or at least, the people who were like this change as they meet Christ and His teaching. Unfortunately, many in our Churches tend to be the opposite. Rather than loving themselves too much, they do not love themselves enough. I led a Bible Study a few years ago and began by asking everybody there how much they loved themselves. The response from almost all of those present was that it was not much since they were sinners. Now I am not certain they were all telling the truth, at times like that, we tend to say what we think we should be like rather than saying what we are really like, but this illustrates the view that is common amongst many Christians. I suspect that if I asked each of you how much you loved yourself, the reply would be the same. And the teaching given in the church itself over the years tends to make people believe this more.
In the time I have been a Christian I have heard many times that mankind is worthless without God. That we are nothing but sinners and there is nothing good within us until we receive salvation. Teaching such as this is based largely on Paul’s teaching in his letter to Rome. Verses such as “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
And “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—“
Or perhaps I should say that this teaching is based on, not so much Paul’s writings, but primarily on St. Augustine’s interpretation of Paul’s writing. Just listen to this quote from some of Augustine’s teaching about mankind’s state:
“From this state, after he had sinned, man was banished, and through his sin he subjected his descendants to the punishment of sin and damnation, for he had radically corrupted them, in himself, by his sinning. As a consequence of this, all those descended from him and his wife (who had prompted him to sin and who was condemned along with him at the same time) — all those born through carnal lust, on whom the same penalty is visited as for disobedience — all these entered into the inheritance of original sin.”
According to this teaching, mankind was totally given up to sin; there was no good at all in them and therefore nothing to be loved. The problem is that according to many Bible scholars, this does not seem to match up with Jesus’ teaching in the passage we heard this morning where he agreed with the Old Testament commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Jesus is saying here that it is ok to love ourselves, more than that, if we love ourselves we are more able to love others and love God. There are also several other passages in the Bible that suggest that humans may not be as bad as Christianity, or at least some parts of it, suggest.