I am so sick of our self-absorbed culture – and of my own self-absorbed heart.
If you could identify one theme of contemporary Christian music, what would it be? My guess is that it would be something like this: “God loves you. You are beautiful and important to him. Don’t feel alone or dejected, just know that you are loved.”
Are these good, true words that Christians need to hear? Often? Absolutely. “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3). Let’s revel in how much our Lord loves us, every day.
There is a subtle but significant difference between reveling in the love of God and constantly dwelling on our importance in his eyes, however. The love of God is comforting and encouraging, absolutely. It is also exacting, demanding, awe-inspiring, and shocking. If talking or singing about God’s love leaves us primarily feeling more important and more esteemed by God than we did before, we have missed the point. God’s love cuts us down before it builds us up, it shakes us out of our self-aggrandizing notions of ourselves before it soothes our souls.
“Self-esteem” has been a buzzword in American culture for decades. Lately, some have said that its preeminence in pop psychology will soon end, giving way to some other yet unknown trend. We know, though, that “nothing is new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Every revolutionary idea is simply another expression of the basics of human nature: we all want to be loved, and to feel significant and valuable, and we are all obsessed with ourselves.
The God of the Bible is a God who desires for the people he created to esteem him highly, not themselves. When their view of themselves is big and appreciative and devoted but their view of him is small and uninterested and neglected – understand the absurdity there – his jealousy for his own glory is aroused. God thunders in anger when we rob him of the glory that belongs only to him. Glory-stealing is the primeval sin, the root of evil, the explanation of all wickedness, and it is all too present in our churches, in our thoughts about God, and in my heart.
If our view of God is small, our view of sin will be small, too, as will our view of the love and grace demonstrated at Christ’s cross. These things go hand in hand. A person, church, or songwriter whose God is too small, and to whom sin seems unimportant or irrelevant, will never know “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18) and will never sincerely exclaim “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33) The Bible teaches of a divine love that is holy and avenging and tyrannical and more intensely beautiful than love found anywhere else. C. S. Lewis said this, in his “The Problem of Pain,” quoted in the CCEF book “How People Change”:
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name goes all the glory for your unfailing love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1