Loving Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself: A Comment on Love and Self-esteem

I was having a conversation the other day with Anne, one of my graduate students, about the relationship between self-esteem, love and the second Greatest Commandment--love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Specifically, one of the things you often hear in churches is this: you have to love yourself first, and then, once you love yourself, you can love your neighbor. In this formulation, self-love functions as a prerequisite for the love of others. And you often hear it described as a two-stage process:

Stage One: Love yourself
Stage Two: Love others
In one sense, I agree with this. It's hard to really love others if you've got a catastrophically bad self-esteem. In those cases what looks like love might actually be, underneath, a fearful, servile dependency. So in that sense, I get it.

But actually don't think Jesus has this very recent, Western psychotherapeutic situation in mind. I don't Jesus is saying anything at all about self-esteem in the second Greatest Commandment. And it worries me a lot that churches are leading with messages of self-love. I don't think Americans need to hear a message that starts like this: "The first thing you need to do is work on loving yourself. And when you've got that down then you can turn to loving others." Because, as best I can tell, a lot of Christians are spending their whole lives just working away on the first part of that equation. Year after year American Christians are spending all their spiritual formation energy on learning to love themselves. And that seems a bit screwy.

What I actually think Jesus is trying to say in the second Greatest Commandment is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. As I argue in Unclean, Jesus is trying to blur the boundary between Self and Other. Jesus is trying in the second Greatest Commandment to form an identity relationship between Self and Other, to see our lives as intertwined. The hallmark of this fusion is empathy, the ability to stand in another person's shoes and ask a simple question: "If this were me, what would I want?" Basically, "love your neighbor as you love yourself" is just another version of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Later in the conversation, Anne came back to the issue of self-esteem. She asked, "But don't you think self-esteem is important in learning to love others?"

Again, in really bad situations, as with chronic depression, I do think enhancing self-esteem should be a therapeutic focus. But for most of us, I don't think we need to spend a lot of time working on self-esteem. What I told Anne was that I think we should be working on self-forgetfulness.

I think the key, and this seems to me both very Christian and very Buddhist, is to just stop with the evaluative self-rumination. The secret, I think, isn't to try to go from a low self-esteem to a high self-esteem. The secret is to just stop playing the self-esteem game altogether. The key is to get out of your head.

Unfortunately, I don't have any great tips on how to accomplish this. Just the recommendation that perhaps we shouldn't take our self-assessments too seriously. I tell my students that I don't really believe in positive self-regard. Rather, I believe in ironic self-regard. Stop taking your internal monologue so seriously.

I think is path toward self-forgetfulness is a form of kenosis, of self-emptying. And perhaps that is what should really be the target, a kenostic self-esteem. A self that "dies" so that we can become available to others.

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52 thoughts on “Loving Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself: A Comment on Love and Self-esteem”

  1. I wonder if it might be a chicken-and-egg thing?
    For a very long time, I was firmly in the "abysmally low self-esteem" category, perhaps because I somehow osmosified a whole lot of that brickbat-to-the-face Reformed theology. So, it has been incredibly useful and cathartic to me over the past years to be able to say, "yep: on a scale of one-to-awesome, I'm SUPER DUPER." While this has gone hand-in-hand with a growing sense of wonder at the amazingness of everybody and everything else, there is as well the germ of the temptation to turn inward and start obsessing... which, as you say, is a nasty sort of psychosis. Nonetheless, it was my self-loathing (and unwillingness to allow myself any sort of grace) that kept me from forgetting myself long enough to really love anyone else "in spirit and in truth." It just seems to me that a lot of the self-obsession in our culture is not self-love, but actually a sort of self-loathing, since what we are "loving" is not our true selves (dangerously platonic, I know), but rather a caricature of humanity... an idol, almost (exactly). There's the "be thin and well-muscled and rich and beautiful and smooth-skinned and smart" idol, to be sure; but there is also the "be good and kind and Jesus-like and perfect, therefore, as God is perfect, or you're damned" idol, as well. Is there anything that can't be made an idol? Is there any human love that can't be turned to hate?

  2. Richard wrote:
    "The key is to get out of your head." "Rather, I believe in ironic self-regard. Stop taking your internal monologue so seriously."

    Those three sentences constitute the best advice i've heard in a year (or more). 

    Richard, you made my whole day.

    --guy

  3. Great post. Love it! A bit off topic, but still with your book...I thought about your book yesterday when I was thinking about the young boy who committed suicide due to bullying last week. I thought about those who were the bully-ers and wondered if the concept of your book would apply to them and their complete disregard for Jamey.

  4. I think there is an idolatry in too much self-focus, and that can be, as you mention, bad self-focus or good-self-focus.

    I guess what I'm struggling with is how, in American culture, the whole issue is framed as toggling between those two. Moving back and forth along that continuum. I'm wondering if that whole game, the game of self-focus (good and bad), isn't the root problem. So is there a third way? A lot of my thoughts along these lines, experimental thoughts, have been shaped by a Buddhist approach to the ego. There is no good or bad, just experience. The poison is the evaluation of the ego, even good evaluation. I'm trying to connect that idea with Christian kenosis to see if Christian discussion about the self can shed the self-esteem frame that, I think, has some problems.

  5. I've been reading up on David Brooks' new book "The Social Animal" and from what I gather (I don't have access to purchase the book), the premise falls in line with your advice about de-emphasizing our own self-regard. We are what we love, and that love is built on a platform of genetics and formation. Our habits, impulses and desires are better indicators of who we are than how we think about who we are. Maybe self-esteem is a good thing, but perhaps, as you suggest and what I think this book is trying to suggest, the path to greater self-esteem is not through conscious reflection but through the slow work of changing our formation. Ideally, the Church could be a community with practices and habits that help promote a certain kind of orientation. But through your writings on determinism it seems that such kind of changes are really difficult, which makes me think that the best we can hope for is a sort of triumphant muddling through life, replete with minor victories and enduring hope.

  6. I've been thinking about Jamey a lot, and all the kids like him. I've been pondering what to write. Interestingly, Lady Gaga's tribute caught my attention. I might start with her and her monsters.

  7. I don't know if it's quite the same thing as obsessing on self, but among Christians"being right" and staunchly proving it is a powerful drug that feeds an Othering frenzy. If that need to prove rightness (by dissecting Scripture, and systematizing it like mathematical proofs) were laid aside and the Other person seen and heard as a person, instead of the espousing agent of a "wrong" idea, perhaps the church might become a more gracious embodiment of Christ and His love.

  8. I like the concept of a kenostic self-esteem...think I'll hold on to that one. My addition to the conversation is that maybe instead of self-love leading to self-esteem, self-forgiveness should lead to self-esteem.  I found a quote from Carl Jung somewhere (heck...might have been here...) that began my understanding of the issue - basically he asks what happens when the least of all, the poorest of beggars, is found within myself? What if I find that I stand in need of my own alms? We tend to lose any sense of love or long suffering at that point...In Carl's words we "say to the brother within us 'Raca' and condemn and rage against ourselves". Self-forgiveness, rather than self-love, has let me get out of this pit with increased love for both my neighbor AND myself. I empty myself of the need for esteem, in a way.
    I wish I could say more, but I've gone and confused myself! ;)

  9. I think you're exactly right, Richard.  And I believe we're told to love our neighbors as ourselves because our neighbors ARE ourselves - we are all One, interconnected in ways that Eastern religions have a much better grasp on than we do in our Western concept of individuality.  I think this is what Paul was talking about when he said we're ONE body with many members...

  10. Yeah... I don't get the sense that Jesus' statement was a sort of sequential formula - that does smack more of an anachronistic back-reading of ourselves into the text. I'll follow you into BuddhistLand and say that I think that whenever we start to separate things out into constituent parts, we ought to suspect our motivations for becoming, perhaps, a bit too mechanical in a world that is most decidedly NOT a machine. It is a mystery. A lovely, incomprehensible mystery. A masterpiece, too. There is a unity to it, a Oneness, that irks the VERY individualistic and self-centered American psyche - as though being a part of anything else either diminishes ME, or undercuts the idea of a remote, distinct Godhead... which is weird, because those would seem to be exactly the ideas that Jesus came to demolish. All that to say... I agree that it isn't a binary choice; it's a story, which is a thread in the tapestry of the All-Story. 

  11. > a growing sense of wonder at the amazingness of everybody and everything else

    This seems like a big deal.

  12. If your Christian neighbor were to ask for a simply worded, straightforward, explanation of what it would look like for them to 'love,' what would you say?

  13. Also... are you into Thomas Merton? Wasn't that what he was focused on, primarily, in his last years... to examine the correlations between Buddhism and Christianity (which is why, of course, God fried him in the shower with an electrical appliance).

  14. > The key is to get out of your head. ... Unfortunately, I don't have any great tips on how to accomplish this.

    If it's as Christian and Buddhist as you think, it seems like some of the Christian and Buddhist practices would work out these muscles.

  15. Yeah. I was keying on the word "tip." That is, there's nothing I could say in a short blog post that could get anyone from 0 to 60 on this in any quick way. No short cut. But if anyone said, "I'd like a peice of that," we'd need to start talking about practices.

    But if I did have a quick tip it would be something like this: If you want to get out of your head, go help someone else. There's actually a growing research literature on this, that small acts of altruism give you a pretty big and long lasting buzz of good cheer.

    But if that's a bit too much I'd also recommend a hobby. You can accomplish self-forgetting by getting lost in an activity, what psychologists call flow states. I, for example, blog a bit....

  16. Yeah. I was keying on the word "tip." That is, there's nothing I could
    say in a short blog post that could get anyone from 0 to 60 on this in
    any quick way. No short cut. But if anyone said, "I'd like a peice of
    that," we'd need to start talking about practices.

    But if I did
    have a quick tip it would be something like this: If you want to get
    out of your head, go help someone else. There's actually a growing
    research literature on this, that small acts of altruism give you a
    pretty big and long lasting buzz of good cheer.

    But if that's a
    bit too much I'd also recommend a hobby. You can accomplish
    self-forgetting by getting lost in an activity, what psychologists call
    flow states. I, for example, blog a bit....

  17. Oh, this is juicy!!! I
    TOTALLY agree that the emphasis on first learning to love one's self is
    indicative of the self-absorbed failure of so many American churches to
    actually make a real difference in the systems and structures in which
    we live. We are already plenty self-absorbed.

    That said, I very much
    disagree that we should just get over our gaping insecurity and go out there and love
    others. We can't step over our own brokenness to fix everyone else.
    Liberals have been trying that for ages. We always think we know better
    than others, and then we end up replicating our own messed-up-ness in
    whatever systems we create.

    To me, the key is that we CAN'T love
    ourselves. We are dependent on God for love, for the source of our
    esteem, and thus our ability to love others. (I really believe that
    Jesus' game-changing life and ministry was made possible by getting that
    message at his baptism: "This is my beloved, with whom I am well
    pleased.") I will often have people in our Seminary of the Street
    workshops spend time in soaking prayer, just imagining receiving the
    unconditional, unearned love of God, really taking it in at a cellular
    level, because I believe we then become capable of acting in the world
    out of selfless love rather than a desire to prove one's self, get
    kudos, feel better about one's self, etc.

    Also, it is very important
    that this receiving of God's love is not a PRECURSOR to loving one's
    neighbor but something that happens simultaneously and is mutually
    reinforcing. One of the ways God's love is mediated to us on earth is
    through loving community, which is created by loving our neighbors.
    Loving community reminds us of God's love, and then in gratitude we want
    to give it away: "Freely you have received. Freely give."

  18. Thank you--this was excellent, and once again a timely post for me to read (I tend to get overly preoccupied with my own internal states, and especially so lately).

    I actually think this post relates very much to your "Bait and Switch" post from some time back, and even clarifies it nicely.

  19. I love this post.  This is why I am here!  I too want the best from both the Christian experience and that of the Buddhists.  And I agree with your solution to the problem of being too much inside one's head (my primary problem since 2nd grade).  Doing things for others -- even if just as a husband, father, in-law, and neighbor -- and having a good hobby. 
     
    The "flow" of the psychologist seems to me very much the same as the meditation/prayer of the Buddhist.  I have found deep breathing to be incredibly helpful in both relaxing me and focusing my mind away from itself.

  20. Reading your thoughts reminds me of some of the thrusts of Orthodox asceticism.  A large part of that is practice that anyone can do:  live in the sacramental life esp the Divine Liturgy, say your prayers (put yourself in a "place" where you can maintain constant contact with God), give to the poor (broadly defined, including volunteering, and certainly including money), observe the fasts (reminding yourself that life is more than "bread").  "Getting out of one's head" is precisely what monastics try to do with "the prayer of the heart" (the Jesus Prayer).

    I think you would be interested in how Fr Meletios Webber deals with the "getting out of your head" thing in the first few chps of his book "Bread, Water, Wine and Oil".  He is currently the abbot of our "local" monastery in northern California - and he is also a trained addiction counselor.  I think those chapters are worth the price of the whole book -but the rest of it's not bad, either :)

    Don't want to wear out my welcome constantly talking about EO, and I try not to be an "obnoxious convert type".  I just find it fascinating that your thoughts bump up against it so consistently.  You can "go east", but you don't have to go all the way to Buddhism -although a very dear Orthodox friend of mine has an MA in Buddhist Studies and has met the Dalai Lama a couple of times.

    Dana

  21. I wonder if you would write this in the same way if you identified as female? I've had to spend a lot of the last five years rejecting everything the media and culture have told me are important as a woman, which seem to be, "If you are not thinner than you are now and partnered to a man, you are completely and utterly worthless-- BUT WE CAN SELL YOU SOMETHING TO HELP YOU REACH THOSE GOALS!"

    I didn't learn to love myself until I learned to shut out those voices, it involved professional and amateur therapy and a lot of tears and some visualization of sending my Internal Critic through a woodchipper over and over again, and they still sneak in every so often.

    Now, I'm focusing on both maintaining that love of my unique being, and loving my neighbors* as if they were a part of me, a part of my self (the space I completely meant to be there). But I couldn't get to this point without the earlier part of the journey that shed the dependence of my self on the external voices of family and media and culture, and putting as the center of my existence the firm belief that I am a beloved child of God, just like everyone else.

    *especially the really annoying, irksome ones.

  22. Self-esteem is empty if not in the context of viewing one's self as equally valuable in God's sight as your
    neighbor.  Perhaps getting out and helping/interacting/loving others is the best way to show that you value
    others as much as you value yourself (otherwise it's just a nice idea).  From childhood on, we begin de-valuing ourselves and others for a multitude of reasons---seems like God is continually trying to remind us that our value is inherent---we just need to accept it, not only for our own good, but also for the good of all.

  23. Rousseau, if I've understood him right, makes an interesting distiction between (good) self-love and (bad) self-esteem: the bad kicks in when we start to compare ourselves with others and need their good opinion.  Interestingly, this resonates with Girard on mimetics - our ability as humans to guess the motivations of others opens the door both to the highest forms of love (through empathy) and the lowest expressions of human violence (through competition and subsequent scapegoating).  Maybe that is why the command to love God comes first - to the extent that Love is the lens through which we see ourselves, all these issues of comparison become irrelevant.

  24. I also wonder about that word 'as'.  Does Jesus mean 'love others just as you already love yourself, or 'use the same measure when it comes to loving others and loving yourself'?  Perhaps Jesus is warning us against the equal and opposite dangers of being a doormat or a tyrant - against the abuse of unequal power in relationships...?

  25. Mary Sue, your observation about gender is a good point. In addition, there's also my genetic disposition, learning history, and mental health background. The point is, as you note, it's easy to minimize the role of self-esteem if you don't struggle overmuch with it. Like preaching against alcohol to a bunch of teetotalers. So I don't want to be taken as dismissive of those whose inner journey toward a healthy self-concept has been difficult an ongoing. I'd like my post to be seen as more of a cultural commentary than as a mental health commentary.  

  26. I tend to think that since Jesus illustrated his meaning of "Love your neighbor as yourself" with the story of the man attacked and injured en route, and those who passed by and one who stopped to help, that the "as" is contextual to the circumstance. What would you need from someone else if you were in the same situation?

  27. Some textual teeth to your point on the sense of "as yourself"  and identity is Lev. 19:34:

    "The foreigner who resides with you MUST BE TO YOU LIKE A NATIVE CITIZEN among you; so you must love him AS yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

    The bases for the 'loving' was to identify foreigners as natives, and that ability was grounded in remembering that the natives themselves were foreigners at one time.  Notice that the reason ('because' ki) for the loving was not an abundance of self-love but an empathy grounded in one's own unfortunate history (think AA).  Your comments on 'fusion' and 'empathy' seem well supported.  

    Forgive me if you already have this in your book. I haven't had a chance to read it yet.
    Thanks for the insight, though.  Hope you don't mind if I plagiarize it for an upcoming sermon.

    Joseph  

  28. Some textual teeth to your point on the sense of "as yourself"  and identity is Lev. 19:34:

    "The foreigner who resides with you MUST BE TO YOU LIKE A NATIVE CITIZEN among you; so you must love him AS yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

    The bases for the 'loving' was to identify foreigners as natives, and that ability was grounded in remembering that the natives themselves were foreigners at one time.  Notice that the reason ('because" ki) for the loving was not an abundance of self-love but an empathy grounded in one's own unfortunate history (think AA).  Your comments on 'fusion' and 'empathy' seem well supported.  

    Forgive me if you already have this in your book. I haven't had a chance to read it yet.
    Thanks for the insight.  Hope you don't mind if I plagiarize it for an upcoming sermon.

    Joseph  

  29. Part of this is a translation problem about the personal plural; we no longer use ye.  We use the you you to address both our-self as a single individual and ourselves as a group.  What I see missing in this discussion is the fact that Jesus actually calls on us to often treat others better than what we would often reasonably expect to be treated; go the second mile, turn the other cheek etc.  We love both god because he first loved us and we love others because God loves them in exactly the same way he first loved us.  In loving others we are emulating God.  Jesus thought it not unjust to be as the created. Too often loving others as we would want to be loved, means that we love others because we want to be loved back.  Better we should say; love others as we have experienced God's love and want others to see God's love through us.  The new covenant is not about being fair.  It's about being better than fair.

  30. Just read it and I LOVE it. I wrote a bit about Jamey yesterday, also. Can't seem to get that young man's face off my mind. Thankful that he had a place to fit in, wish your scenario of what should happen in schools would have been his reality. Thanks, Richard.

  31. Hi Jim,
    Glad to hear from you as I thought our last exchange ended badly. I really didn't intend what seemed to have been heard. At any rate, I would not have asked you this question for I am quite sure our answers are the same. But, since you chose to answer, I would like to make a few comments (surprised?? :) ).
    Your response is perfect with regard to its being 'simply worded and straightforward.' I wouldn't think anybody could misunderstand what you intended. That said, I am left with a few concerns.
    I asked for "what it would look like for them to 'love,'" Your response seems to imply that it looks like a 'commitment.' An extremely firm commitment; but, a commitment nevertheless.
    The trouble is that I honestly don't know what a commitment looks like. I believe that love (the kind the NT calls agape) is an action and not an intention. Clearly an action is preceded by an intention; but, love itself, seems to me to be an action.
    Now the phrase, 'highest good and well-being.' This is really hard for me because there is so much latitude here for personal opinion. And, I don't think love is like that. I think the one who makes the determination of what is the true welfare of the other is the Holy Spirit. And, He knows exactly what it is in each and every case. So, the only human who can actually see the right action to take is the one who is listening to the Holy Spirit. And, of course, the only one who can do this is the one who actually is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. All others who believe they are loving are just deceiving themselves.
    Finally, 'another person.' I would have also said it this way until I thought about my dog! Is love limited to only people? Can't I unselfishly act according to what is truly best for him and without any regard for whether or not he then licks my hand?
    One last element that comes to mind is ME. If any part of the intention or the action has to do with ME, then it is not love. The act must be entirely without selfishness to be love, agape.
    Well, one thing you could say about my response here is that it is NOT 'simply worded and straightforward.'

  32. Hello David,

    I'm sorry if you thought our last exchange "ended badly," but please know that I see no ill will between us. I did promise to try to avoid jumping into your comments but I was just trying here to give a "simple and straightforward" response to what seemed like a question addressed to all. So I did, and you eloquently responded -- not quite as simple and straightforward perhaps, so I will respond in kind.

    Since you would prefer not to limit this definition to only humans (which I would heartily agree with), I will rephrase it: "The unshakable commitment to act for the highest good and well-being of another being." Some may choose to love their car or boat as well, but since the Bible seems to stress avoiding the love of material possessions I will limit this discussion to living beings. ;)You seem to dislike the idea of a "commitment," as if it is somehow just a forced obligation with no sincere motivation behind it. But I think the idea of love as a commitment is most clearly revealed in God's love for His creation -- His commitment to reconcile all things; to restore all things; to make all things new. And God most certainly demonstrated this commitment - His love for us - in that "while we were still sinners Christ died for us." And as far as an "obligation" is concerned, I believe that God is most certainly obligated to care for all of His creation. He is morally and ethically bound to restore the creation that He subjected to corruption and futility. He has the obligation (responsibility) to care for the beings which He created just as an earthly father is obligated to care for his children. And just as an earthly father does so with glad tidings in his heart, so does our heavenly Father. It is a joyous "commitment" for both.As one who believes in the salvation of only a remnant how do you view God addressing the "true welfare" of the non-elect by damning them to eternal torment? By acting out his "wrath" and "justice" in such a way is He "unselfishly acting according to what is truly best" for them? Or does He require that those He will "save" first "lick His hand" (believe, repent, etc., etc.) before He will extend His grace to them?You said: "One last element that comes to mind is ME. If any part of the intention or the action has to do with ME, then it is not love. The act must be entirely without selfishness to be love, agape."Since you also have espoused the Calvinist belief that God "wants" to save all men, but has "purposed" to save only a few in order to "demonstrate HIS justice," how is this not an "intention that has to do with HIM," and so is then not love? In saving a few elect in demonstrating HIS grace, and damning the remaining non-elect in order to demonstrate HIS justice, is God not acting purely selfishly in these acts of self-glorification? If God is going to "unselfishly act according to what is truly best for all of mankind and without any regard for whether or not we lick His hand" would God not then "save" all of us? I believe He would... and will. You, of course, are free to disagree.

  33. Hi Jim,

    Glad to hear that there is no ill will and know that I always welcome your 'jumping in.'

    I wouldn't say I dislike the idea of commitment behind love. And, of course, I agree with all you say about God vis-a-vis his creation in this regard. It is just that my question was 'what does it look like?' We are all good about talking a good story. Our intention are always just fine. Yet.....

    So that is the only reason for resistance to including the idea of commitment in the description of love as a neighbor might see it.

    Of course when we say 'remnant' we have to scale that with the billions who have ever lived. In Revelation 7:9 John sees an "enormous crowd that no one could count." And, these are just the ones who are saved and martyred during the tribulation.

    However, to your point. God never seems to want any of us to 'lick his hand' as a reason for any of His actions. And of course you know that I do not consider 'believing' an act on our part. Another disclaimer: I don't know how to reconcile the remnant idea with the love idea. Nevertheless, what I see in Scripture is that God says that He showed all the love (grace) He deems necessary when He went to the cross. And, yes, even though he created us to end up this way (sinners), He is still just to expect us to believe without Him changing us. Turns out we won't.

    Wow, that last one is a monumental question!!! I'll ignore the Calvinism jab and say that the answer is that we and God are not the same. He can not be other than always just and love at the same time. You and I on the other hand, can't say this about ourselves. Thus, God can not be selfish and still be God. Even when we can't explain His apparent actions to our satisfaction.

    One last point (for now), God does not damn people to eternal suffering. He paid for all their sin on the cross. BUT, He says believe Me and . . . People who choose not to believe are doing their own damning.

  34. "People who choose not to believe are doing their own damning."

    So then, as one who "chose" to believe, you apparently saved yourself then? Please forgive my bluntness, but that would be very "righteous" of you wouldn't it - as in SELF-righteous?

    In my mind you have a choice to make that you have so far avoided or ignored. Either you redefine "love" as something other than you have already tried to define it - "unselfishly act according to what is truly best for others" - or you admit that God does NOT love all of His creation - ALL men - but only the elect.

    Once again you contradict yourself in saying that we CAN choose to believe, while you try to stick to the Calvinist (and in this case, completely Biblical) notion that we can only believe if God gives us faith.

    Just two questions then: Does God love ALL mankind? And will He demonstrate this by, in your own words again, "unselfishly acting according to what is truly best" for ALL mankind?

    If you say "yes" to both, how then would you explain how God is "loving" those He submits to eternal conscious torment? To even try to do so would be an insult to my intelligence as well as yours, so please don't bother.

    But it does seem that you have already "answered" this: "I don't know how to reconcile the remnant idea with the love idea."

    And therein lies the problem. You CANNOT reconcile a God of love with a God of limited grace, and so you try to avoid the irreconcilable by effectively calling it a mystery that we just can't comprehend. And what a mystery it is - God loves... but then He actually doesn't. Forgive me again, but that is fascinating in its ridiculousness.

    To summarize then, we are left with that same old question: Does God really LOVE all of us? To which your answer can only be "no." And trying to fancifully dance around it will not change it. All that is left for you is to admit to it. But please know that God has already forgiven you for even thinking it.

  35. Hi Jim,

    Looks like I don't get the choice to respond to you in the thread, so here it my response to your last comment.

    I think you missed your calling; you should have been a prosecuting attorney!  And, of course, the last thing I wish to do is insult your intelligence or imply that I am righteous, void of the blood of Christ. So, let me try to wade into this morass.

    "So, as one who chose to believe . . "

    Not me! I am the one in Romans 1:18 who chose to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. So, no, I did not save myself. And, your bluntness is just fine.

    "you have a choice to make that you have so far avoided or ignored."

    I hope I haven't been guilty of those actions. God showed His love at the cross when He died for ALL men. You seem to think that it wasn't enough and that He should do more. He said it is finished and now, it is up to ALL men to believe. Well, since ALL won't; He chooses some and you say, well . . . not good enough. OK, your argument is not with me.

    "Just two questions then: . . ."

    1) According to John 3:16, He loves the whole world.
    2) He will not demonstrate this since He already has demonstrated it and once seems to be enough for Him.

    "If you say "yes" to both, . . . "

    As you can see, I don't say 'yes' to both and so I have avoided insulting either of us with my answers.

    So you summarize your questions:

    "Does God really LOVE all of us?"   You think I will answer 'no' and I answer 'yes.'

    Seriously, is it a 'fancifully dance' to say that He demonstrated all the love He could at the cross and that you are just not satisfied by His solution?

  36. Perhaps, it's appropriate to think about Jesus' statement in the context of Paul's analogy that we are "one body" in Jesus Christ. What is good for one, benefits all. What is hurtful to one, affects all.

  37. "He demonstrated all the love He could at the cross and that you are just not satisfied by His solution?"

    Oh, but I am most satisfied. Christ died for the sins of the world so there is nothing anyone needs to pay for in hell. It is you, my friend, whose claims assume that most will be paying for their sins there. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, NOT counting their transgressions against them..." It's a done deal. 

    You said, "God showed His love at the cross when He died for ALL men." Why do you insist then, that God will demand payment for sins that Christ died for?

    As far as your logic is concerned, it is most confusing and contradictory. In a previous comment below you said, "And, yes, even though he created us to end up this way (sinners), He is still just to expect us to believe without Him changing us." But in a previous response to Richard you said, "I didn't have a Damascus road experience, but, I sat down one morning thinking this Christianity stuff was all foolishness and myth and I got up believing it was all true. This chameleon like change was not my doing or choice." 

    You admit that you could not believe UNTIL God changed you, but still claim that God expects us to believe WITHOUT Him changing us. Please.... make up your mind.

  38. "Does God really LOVE all of us?"   You think I will answer 'no' and I answer 'yes.'"
    But by your own definition of "love" from below - "unselfishly act according to what is truly best for him and without any regard for whether or not he then licks my hand" - your answer is a most definite "no,"... unless, of course, you are trying to convince me that eternal torment in hell is "what is truly best" for someone. 

    "I believe that love (the kind the NT calls agape) is an action and not an intention. Clearly an action is preceded by an intention; but, love itself, seems to me to be an action." 

    Since you claim that God is just in only giving faith to an elect few you are again admitting that God does NOT love the rest by your assertion that He will NOT take the action of curing their unbelief.

  39. > As far as your logic is concerned, it is most confusing and contradictory.

    Count that as two marks against David's logic. I would be thrilled if he would take this critique seriously, and either embrace the contradiction implicit in his position, or change his mind.

  40. Hi Jim (and Matthew),




    “You admit that you could not believe
    UNTIL God changed you, but still claim that God expects us to believe
    WITHOUT Him changing us. Please.... make up your mind.”




    OK, I'm an illogical dolt; no problem.
    But, the above quote is not accurate. According to Romans 1, a lost
    person chooses to suppress the truth. This then applies to every
    living soul who has not yet believed. God has paid the price of sin.
    Please, we agree on that and so let's get past that. What you seem
    to not wish to deal with is that God expects us to believe Him EVEN
    THOUGH He has paid the price for our sin and without Him having to
    change us. And, it is also very clear that Scripture talks about
    living people doing this and not physically dead people after they
    have suffered in hell.




    Do you agree that Scripture tells us
    that God expects us to have faith without Him taking the first step?
    Hebrews 11:6 seems to clearly state this; given that faith is simply
    believing God.




    BUT since nobody WILL believe Him
    because of their sinful choices; He saves some. You say He should
    love these people and save them all. He says, believe Me and then
    we'll talk.

  41. What do you think of Ayn Rand's idea:  
    To love is to value. Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, is capable of love—because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed values. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone. 

  42. Thank you for the vote of confidence, but sadly the Calvinist "answer" to challenges that point out their  contradictions is to explain it away as "something we just can't comprehend." Irrationality is no argument for anything, much less an explanation of God's actions.

    I deeply respect David's passion, but I cannot accept the abandonment of reason as an acceptable line of thought.

  43. Jim,



    I did wonder why you entered into this
    exchange again; but, I don't think it is arrogance. Anyway, let's
    agree that I am totally irrational and blind to my own
    contradictions. Further, let's say I have made contradictory
    statements. Let's put all that nonsense aside and let me deal with
    just one of your comments having to do with Ephesians 2:8-9. The
    reason I would like to do this is that if I can show that you are
    simply factually wrong here then possibly you are also wrong in other
    points as well.



    I asked: "Do you agree that
    Scripture tells us that God expects us to have faith without Him
    taking the first step?" and you answered: “No, I do not.”
    Then you said that my use of Hebrews 11:6 didn't work for you. The
    point I was attempting to support with this verse is that without
    faith one can not please God. I did not say anything here about how
    or when one got this faith. I think you read that into what I had
    said. However, we can put this verse aside.



    You put Ephesians 2:8-9 on the table
    and said “Here faith is specifically pointed out as NOT coming from
    yourself but from God.” This is simply wrong.

    Here are the facts about verse 8; not one of which
    has anything to do with my irrational misunderstandings.
    - 'faith' is a feminine Greek noun.
    - 'that' is a demonstrative pronoun
    in the neuter case.
    - 'that' would have to be in the
    genitive case if it were referring to 'faith' and it is not
    genitive.
    - 'That' is referring to the phrase
    'you have been saved' and the neuter case is the case that is used
    to reference a phrase.
    - Salvation and not faith is the
    gift mentioned in verse 8.



    - According to this verse, faith is
    the instrument by which salvation is given. And, we know this
    without any doubt because 'faith' is in the dative case.

    Therefore, this verse does NOT show
    that faith comes from God.  When you have seen the error here, I would be happy to deal with the rest of your last comment.

  44. As I said my friend, I am done arguing.

    But if it will make you happier I will just concede defeat and accept your beliefs as the "truth."

    Therefore: "Before the foundation of the world God chose to create most of mankind to be objects of His hatred and to spend eternity in conscious torment. In order to glorify Himself He chose NOT to restore His own creations from the corruption, futility, deception, and ignorance that He would subject them to, and that only He could save them from."

    There, are you happy now? You win. I hope you find great joy in spreading such good news to your fellow man. I have no doubt that you will disagree that the above represents your beliefs, but that is only because you cannot yet see the ugliness of the doctrines of Calvinism (which you espouse but deny at the same time.)

    Peace to you.

  45. In arguing about the problem of evil and suffering I use to try to place God in a human category and say He must behave a certain way. What I failed to take into consideration is the holiness of God. God is set apart from His creation and transcendent. He's distinct. We are to imitate God in His holiness in certain ways but there are also ways we are not to imitate God. We cannot be like God in every way. He alone is God and He therefore has rights and prerogatives that we don't have. Just to name a few ways I'm not like God: God is infinite in wisdom, God is all-powerful, God is sovereign, God is self-sufficient, God is all-knowing. When I try to be like God in every way it leads to pride and arrogance. He is the Creator and I am the creature.

    The Bible tells us that God is love. It doesn't say He is ONLY love. And while God is love it's a holy love. For the Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not only this but the Bible also speaks of a holy hatred that God has. So, it's my contention that the problem of evil and suffering doesn't even get started. For God's love isn't merely a human love but a holy love. This isn't the same omnibenevolence that we try to ascribe to God. For God has a holy hatred as well. Nonetheless, He is completely holy and deserves our worship.

  46. If God loves you unconditionally, then why wouldn't you love yourself unconditionally? If you don't love yourself unconditionally, then you really don't understand/know what real (Agape) love is. If you don't know what it is, how can you possibly love another?

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