God created Adam in his own image. While scholars and theologians debate the exact meaning of the imago Dei, the image of God, it is clear that the first humans possessed many of the characteristics of God. He is sovereign over all creation. They were to be sovereign over their part of creation. He is creative. They were to be procreative, filling the earth. Who God is and what he does humans are to reflect and represent.
Among the attributes with which man has been endowed is love. God is love and humans are to love. God created man with that capacity and expectation. God gave him two types of love with which to work: God-love and self-love.
The nature of God-love is obvious. He is to be the primary object of our affections. Self-love drives humans to care for themselves, to meet their basic needs, to preserve self for the purpose of God-love. The latter is to serve the former.
When the Serpent attacked Adam and Eve he did so at this very point. The Serpent tempted Adam and Eve by suggesting that they could be like God, usurp his position, if only they'd love themselves a little more by doing what was forbidden simply because it seemed to be in their own self-interest. Forgetting that they were created in the image of God and by nature like God already, Adam and Eve succumbed. Convinced that God was selfishly withholding blessings, our first parents disobeyed God because they loved themselves more (see John 14:15, 23, 24).
After the Fall, humans still possess both kinds of love: God-love and self-love. Damaged by the Fall, our sense of God-love is diminished yet undeniable. Humans the world over, Paul says in Romans 1, know intuitively that there is a God and seek to worship him in one form or another. Equally undeniable is the over-inflated sense of self-love the tarnishes every human effort.
Even when Christians seek to love God we often do so in ways that are motivated by the desire to please ourselves. We all struggle with this love imbalance, the situation wherein God-love and self-love intersect and compete for our wholehearted affections. We do things, we believe, for the glory of God, yet is the praise of man that we seek. We reach out to others while secretly hoping someone will notice our allegedly selfless efforts. Like Adam, we've taken a God-given gift, self-love, and turned it into the sole object of our love.
The sad irony of this truly monogamous relationship, self-love, is that most of its victims fail to realize the strength of its allure. We love ourselves and everyone knows it except us. We don't recognize the symptoms because we love themselves too much to admit the problem. Like addicts who cannot perceive the problem because the problem deceives the addict, self-love blinds us to our own sinfulness because we can't believe that we're that sinful.
Need some help seeing through those rose colored glasses that you're wearing? Let me suggest a few indications that you might love yourself more than you're able or willing to admit.
You might love yourself too much, if:
You know exactly how many "friends" you have on facebook and care.
You count the number of people "following" you on Twitter and share that fact with others.
You think that people really care what you're doing right now, where you're eating, or what you're drinking.
You deny your foibles and your flaws.
You started your own website to tell people where you're going to be next week in case they want to come see you, too.
You compare your church statistics with others for the purpose of telling them how much has happened since you did X.
You take the family out to their favorite restaurant not because it's their favorite restaurant but because it will give you the night off.
You have a fan club and you're a member.
You repost congratulatory comments from others to make sure others don't miss them.
You ask not "what can I do for my Creator" but "what can my Creator do for me."
You find yourself thinking about the human audience when you're praying to the divine audience in public.
You fight the urge to respond to every criticism on the Internet.
You think you've solved 2000 year old debates in your latest blog or book.
The list could go on and on. Every one of us could add something specific to our own heartfelt desires to be love and admired. That's the point. We love ourselves too much and our God too little. That's what ruined Adam and that's what ruins our best efforts today.
Pray that God will give you an accurate sense of self-worth. Ask God to break your pride. Make the love of God the heartbeat of your life. Set God on the altar of your life, where you so desperately want to sit. Love God first and you'll love yourself less.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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