Do you realize that we are supposed to feel good about ourselves? God declared creation good and upped it to “very good” once man and woman were in place. After all that got messed up at the fall, he then sent his Son to live, die and rise again so that we could be redeemed – be very good – again. Our desire to feel good about ourselves comes from a deep, God-created place and should not be mocked or belittled.
The problem is that it’s not easy to get to a place of feeling good about ourselves. There are all sorts of counterfeits available out in the world. There always are. But like all counterfeits, they wear out, break, chafe, leave a nasty rash behind. For example, it’s pretty well known that many criminals have much higher self-esteem than the rest of us. And we all know someone who loves themselves to pieces even though their own mother doesn’t want to be around them. It’s just not as simple as telling yourself how wonderful you are over and over until you believe it. Any decent person doesn’t just want to think that they are wonderful – they want to BE wonderful. What the world does get right and the church too often gets wrong is that it’s hard to get to that place while thinking of yourself as a worthless piece of filth.
What the world needs and God offers is all that comfy, mushy stuff that our hearts desire – to know ourselves and our world and our life as “very good”. But it does take some work to get there. The church’s job is to offer the real deal, some directions and support and encouragment for people as they go through the hard process of being redeemed. Salvation not just from hell in the next life, but from hell in this life as well. Reaching a point of real self-love (which enhances love of others) is hard. It inevitably involves a good deal of suffering. People on the path always go through periods of feeling so negatively about themselves that it can look like self-loathing. One of the church’s failures is that too often it is taught that suffering and feelings of being unworthy are themselves what we need. Which they aren’t. What we need is a really good reason to tolerate the pain on the way to a better state and way of being. Scripture itself says that Jesus was willing to suffer the pain and humiliation of the cross “for the joy set before him”. Not because it was good for him or for us or holy to suffer but because there was something better on the other side of all that suffering.
If you read the writings of the saints this is exactly what you see. They were saints because they were willing to walk through whatever it took to get to a place of union with God. Because union with God means being flooded with all that is good – joy, peace, healing, worth, and all those mushy things our hearts need and want. It means fear is gone – perfect love cast out fear. It doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean knowing deeply that they are very good. Saints aren’t people who just don’t care about comfort and enjoyment – they are people so committed to reaching real comfort and joy that they are willing to suffer greatly to get there. Their faith wasn’t “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” That sort of thinking isn’t going to get anyone through the suffering of life. But hope in the Living God who will set you free and redeem you and your suffering can.
That’s what Christianity has to offer: the promise that all the suffering we go through in this world can be made worth it. A promise that we can get to a place so filled with light that there is no room for the dark – even in the middle of terrible circumstances. A promise that all those things our hearts desire – all that mushy, comforting stuff – can be ours if we’re willing to take up our own crosses and walk our own narrow path. So, will the church of the future be The Feel Good Church or The Church of Blessed Suffering? Yes.