Martin Luther once observed that when your ego trip has crashed and burned, and your pride is no longer keeping you from God, the devil tries to use your shame to keep you estranged. It is so important to remember we are not God, and not anywhere near as holy and righteous as He is. It is equally important not to dwell morbidly on this fact, such that we don’t dare to feel loved by God.
The fact is, the righteousness gap between us and God is qualitatively greater than the differences between any of us. The person who is over-scrupulous and timid about not leaning on God’s love does not gain any significant moral advantage over the person who boldly throws his flawed self at Jesus’ feet.
Personally, I’ve found that I have a harder time accepting God’s grace for myself than for other people. I have this deep-rooted semiconscious conviction that He doesn’t like me. I can imagine Him feeling affection for the characters in my novel, even though they’re unbelievers who have a lot of sex in bathrooms. But for me, because I call myself a Christian and sometimes claim to have insights that may help the people I care about, I feel there is no margin of error. It is hard to believe I have permission to take care of my own spiritual growth, when that means withdrawing from service to others until I can recharge my sense of God’s love.
This meditation from the fourth-century theologian Gregory of Nazianzus (courtesy of Mark Galli’s blog) expresses the beautiful paradox of loving ourselves because Christ first loved us:
Yesterday I was crucified with Christ; today I am glorified with Him. Yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him. Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him. Today let us offer to Him Who has suffered and Who has risen for us–you think perhaps I was about to say, gold, or silver, or precious things, or shining stones of rare price, the frail material of this earth, which will remain here, and of which the wicked and those who are slaves of earthly things and of the prince of this world possess the greatest part–rather, let us offer Him ourselves, which to God is the most precious and becoming of gifts. Let us offer to His image what is made in the image and likeness of this image. And let us make recognition of our own dignity. Let us give honour to Him in Whose likeness we were made. Let us dwell upon the wonder of this mystery, that we may understand for what Christ has died.