Just As You Are
Instagram's targeted ads done it again and led me to a page that was undoubtedly, specifically, for ladies. Scrolling through the feminist and women - empowering agenda that usually accompanies female hygiene products, my eyes were confronted with this little illustration of a woman proudly baring unshaved legs and untrimmed toenails. It was captioned:
Now, the purpose of this post isn't to rap on the feminist agenda (in which I find things to value and things to discard). What jumped into my mind first of all was the question of whether or not I find this image to be aesthetically pleasing. On the one hand, I usually love illustrations, and the color choices here work together. Varying shades of pink (the shoes, the skin) and blue (the nailpolish, the background) and a talented sketch artist make for an image that jumped out at me. On the other hand, it's a picture of hairy legs and uncut toenails that kind of makes me gag. Basically, this image represents a really interesting capability that we humans have to aestheticize something ugly.
The second thing that I thought when I saw this picture is "all - natural." This clicked into place with a lot of other things I've been noticing. There seems to be a resurgence of the old idea that "all -natural is best" -- however, in not as healthy a way as you might imagine. Our society has long been promoting the idea that organic foods, naturally - sourced self - care products, fresh air and sunshine are far superior to consuming processed products full of harmful chemicals or spending inordinate amounts of time consuming technology. When it comes to the outside things we intake, we can usually agree that all - natural is oftentimes best. Even when it comes to our bodies themselves, natural processes such as listening to your body's cues and allowing your body to heal on its own as much as possible rather than downing medications can be said to be best.
However, the al naturel idea does have a subversive and dangerous side to it when we apply it to ourselves on a level deeper than our natural exterior. You see, all - natural implies that the way things were designed (hear, created) is "right" and tampering with them diminishes rather than augments their inherent goodness. The problem comes when we assume that we ourselves are inherently good and most lovable in our natural state. And shocking as it may be, that's simply not true.
In this post, I'd like to contrast society and the Bible's views on self and then cover a few ways false beliefs may have snuck up even on those of us who believe in the Bible's view of our inherent sinfulness/badness.
Good at Heart
Our society is obsessed with the idea that we are, at our core, in our heart of hearts, good. This is a complete reversal of what the Bible tells us about ourselves, but even setting that aside for a little, the idea doesn't make sense and can't really work practically. However, that doesn't stop most people from believing it! The main reason for this is the phenomenon I mentioned before: we're really good at aestheticizing the ugly when it serves our purposes. And it definitely serves the purpose of maintaining our pride and good opinion of ourselves to aestheticize the ugly parts of what it means to be human.
Many of us grew up on Disney telling us to listen to our hearts (that will lead us to true love, resulting in true happiness). True (romantic) love disillusioned our generation and our kids are growing up in a new kind of society that has discarded relational love as the ultimate good and replaced it with self-love. We are now told to listen to our hearts, and that they will lead us back to ourselves (watch Frozen II to see a perfect example of how even Disney has embraced this new philosophy). I've already written a post or two on the self-healers and how they have popularized the idea that we don't need outside healing; we don't need healing at all in fact. We don't need love from other people or even relationships with them. We need to cut out all the toxicity that would impede our ultimate goal -- to reclaim the perfection that always has existed in ourselves.
And whatever we find in ourselves that isn't all that pretty gets aestheticized by getting a pretty label: "natural." We are to love ourselves, lumps and bumps and hairy legs and addictions and failed marriages and abusive relationships and mess, mess, mess. We are to love ourselves "just as we are."
You're A Bad Banana
"Mr. Grinch you're a bad banana" go the lyrics to the famous Mr. Grinch song. Besides informing the green man that he is less preferable to a sea-sick crocodile, the singer lets loose a string of insults upon Mr. Grinch, telling him he is a monster, has a heart for a hole, is vile, foul, mean, a goner, and friendless. Sadly, it kind of reminds me of the Bible's characterization of the true, unregenerate heart of man.
Humans in their natural state have never been able to accept the truth -- that their natural state is in fact, all wrong. Societies throughout time have tried to repackage the lie that we are at our core good in direct defiance to what God reveals that we are actually at our core, rotten through. The Bible's truth is unchanging in the face of these efforts. We believers have submitted our understanding of the world and ourselves to the one God provides because He has not only authorship of our beings but an outside, unlimited, completely objective perspective to our world while we are inside, limited, and subjective. And what God tells us is the following:
J E R E M I A H 17:9
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
T I T U S 1:15 - 16
"to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled."
E C C L E S I A S T E S 9:3
"Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead."
M A T T H E W 15:19
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
G E N E S I S 6:5 ; 8:21
"The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… from his youth."
R O M A N S 3:10 - 12
"as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.'"
The doctrine of our depravity cannot be covered in these few verses (here's a helpful website if you want more Biblical support). However, without this troubling and yet key insight into ourselves and the problem we face in pleasing a holy and good God, the gospel makes no sense and is totally devalued. As Christians living in a society that is constantly feeding us the lie that we are naturally good and lovable, we need to be reminded, often, that of ourselves we are totally corrupt and unlovable. This brings God's undeserved mercy and love towards us into greater focus and sparks our gratitude.
Hall of Mirrors
Even for those of us who hold to God's truths, this world can really be a hall of mirrors, right? You can start out on the right track, knowing and accepting God's truths, and end up believing a bunch of really unBiblical things because you simply weren't paying attention and bought into some illusion of goodness or truth. However, wrong belief systems will always surface as wrong choices that lead to destructive outcomes. In order to avoid this, we need to be in the habit of constantly identifying the wrong beliefs that drive those around us and even ourselves. Here are a couple ways in which I believe the "self-love" and "good at heart" philosophies have crept into our society and may threaten us as believers.
1. Health and Beauty
A new trend on social media is that of ignoring healthy eating standards. I remember a lot of concern about American obesity when I was growing up, and lived to see a huge push for healthy eating and exercising that led to much healthier lifestyles, overall. Lately, I am shocked to see a reversal in people's thinking. I hope this trend doesn't last long or really catch, but I lately hear frustrated health experts trying to combat the new message of many bloggers: loving yourself is eating what you want, when you want it. Go ahead and eat that entire box of donuts. People post pictures of their over - weight, not - exercised bodies, and try to redefine health, captioning them "this is beautiful." Some of that is legitimate and even praise-worthy -- stretch marks have beauty not because they are objectively beautiful but because they symbolize something of great beauty -- a mother sacrificing physical beauty to give her child life. A heavy-set woman who eats healthy, exercises, and radiates confidence is beautiful because beauty does not lie in weight alone but in womanhood and in her embrace and celebration of how she has been created. I am all for accepting what we cannot change.
But an objective standard exists. Especially for health. A healthy weight may not look the same for everyone, but dietary standards that promote heart health and requirements for an exercise routine cannot and should not be ignored. A healthy / unhealthy body isn't based on how you feel. There are actual ways of measuring health and fitness and this "do what you feel like" won't get you there for the simple reason that sin taints not only our minds/desires but also how our minds/desires interact with our bodies. The truth is that listening to your intuition about how to treat your body won't always work because oftentimes our corrupt desires ask for more rest than we need, more comfort than is good for us, more pleasure (from unhealthy food, alcohol, drugs) than our systems can sustain. We must be wary of crafting an image of health based on our sin-tainted body's impulses rather than crafting a plan to treat our body based on the objective, science-researched and evidence-supported health standards we have had the grace to discover.
As for beauty, of course it is relative and of course, any shape and size can be beautiful. I breezed over the reason earlier; though there are some scientific standards for beauty, it is something spiritual and can transcend physical disproportions. I can see someone objectively not "modeling material" as stunningly beautiful because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Love beautifies. What is in my mind and heart trumps what my eye sees. However, this truth itself is ignored by the little illustration I opened with. It seeks to beautify the ugly with the idea of womanhood -- ignoring the fact that womanhood should have a character of cleanliness, self - care, and femininity. As Christians, we should be wary of falling into the idea that we "come as we are," even physically. We live daily in the presence of God, and we are called to present our best selves to the world to model Christlike excellence in everything -- even personal hygiene and self - care. It is respectful to God and respectful to those around us to promote a high standard of personal care in society.
We live in a post - Postmodern world. Where people once believed a host of different viewpoints and truths can peacefully and tolerantly co-exist, 2020 proved that a massive shift has happened in people's thinking. No longer do we believe in many truths; in America, it seems people have polarized into two broad camps that hold what they believe to be the ultimate truth. To most liberals, it seems that glaringly obvious that the system is irredeemably broken and must be completely overhauled. To most conservatives, it seems that liberals are bent on destroying the basis of a freedom-based governing system. To everyone, it seems that an outside problem exists and that the only way to fix it is by fixing those causing it. There is name-calling, finger-pointing, and blame being thrown around like a hot potato.
The problem is someone, something out there that is victimizing me and mine.
It is said that the London Times wrote or requested an article entitled "What Is Wrong With the World Today?," to which famous Christian author G. K. Chesterton responded with a short letter:
Yours, G. K. Chesterton
What may seem like a clever quip on Chesterton's part actually holds a stunning truth. The problems in our lives start with ourselves. Someone over the weekend pointed out to me that unsaved people always think the problem is outside and the solution lies inside while the Bible's viewpoint is the exact opposite. The problem is inside myself and solution is outside of myself -- in God and His redemptive plan.
In this particular political climate, Christians should be wary of falling into the blame-shifting and most especially into the search for societal solutions that lie outside of the Bible's call for repentance and revival. The reason for our society's disarray begins and ends with an abandonment of God and His design for the world (think loving and respectful relationships [between races, between spouses, between parents/children, between mothers/unborn, between governors/the governed, etc.], His design for families [monogamous, heterosexual, life-long], His design for finances [generosity towards the poor/underprivileged, fair treatment of employees, honest handling of tax money, etc], and I could go on and on). The reason for our society's disarray begins and ends with rebellion and sin and the solution is the gospel. We can get caught up in turbulent questioning of what party to support and throw valuable energy and resources into societal reforms that are truly useless if not paired with and energized by the gospel message: that of a God who can change the total depravity of the human heart into true holiness and goodness.
3. Just As I Am & The Victim Mentality
I always felt like a victim to my personality (not the easiest personality to live with, might I add). I'm naturally not disciplined; very restless and unreliable; easily anxious, confused and overwhelmed; interested in frivolous things; judgmental; hugely insecure; etc. Because of these and many other flaws, for a long time I believed that though I desired to accomplish some really big things, I simply could not accomplish them because of who I naturally was.
Imagine the freedom that I experienced as God allowed this false belief to fall away from me! He opened my eyes to my Christ-won autonomy; to the truth that I have a choice to do one thing or the other, and that through the new nature I gained in Christ, I am no slave to sin and am totally free to choose the righteous option. Better yet, I am a slave to righteousness.
As long as I remained in my conviction that I am a victim to my personality, I could not do the things I wanted to do. Victimhood disables because it posits you as a being powerless under the oppressor. Victimhood is a huge lie that this society is espousing and one that I am afraid many Christians fall into. We re-step into the truth and regain our position of autonomous creatures that can effect our own outcomes when we accept that every single day, in every single moment, we are choosing something. Furthermore, if we are in Christ, in every single circumstance, even at the height of flaming anger at someone who hurt us, we have the ability and the freedom to choose to do the right thing.
The way this plays out in the "all - natural" or "just as I naturally am" mindset is this: we are told by this society that we can't be anyone but who we are naturally. We are allowed, nay, encouraged, to brush off our sins as "well, this is just a who I am." Big nope. A sinful state may be how we are, naturally, but it is ugly, it is wrong, and it is a part of the dead, old sinful nature. You are accepting a false identity when you have an anxiety attack that puts stress on everyone around you and then shrug it off as part of "who you are." Christians have a new identity -- they are alive with the life of Christ. They cradle the holy, perfect, new nature of Christ inside themselves and it surfaces to the extent that we embrace it as our new "who I am." We are who He is in us. Christians should be wary of this subversive way the lie of the natural self can creep into our lives. Yes, the natural self is who we were. It is not who we are.
Season 5, Episode 22 of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld is entitled "The Opposite." In it, one of the main characters George Costanza is at a pretty low point in life and begins to think that his gut instinct is to blame. He decides from then on to do the exact opposite of every natural impulse he has and ends up experiencing phenomenal successes, landing a high-paying sports job and a new girlfriend. He soon concludes that doing "the opposite" should be his new reigning philosophy in life.
While this is just a clever premise for a funny show, it illustrates quite succintly that our sinful nature will always lead us in the wrong direction. In Genesis 6:5, God says "every intention of the thoughts of his [man's] heart was only evil continually." That means that even when we do good, if it is from our old nature, the motivation is deep down bad and usually prideful/self-glorifying. We are so self - deceiving, we often can't even admit our true motivations to ourselves. The only cure for our "heart that is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9) is a new heart given to us through belief in Jesus' Christ's death and resurrection.
Bad choices in health and beauty, misdirection in politics, and a paralyzing victim mentality -- these are just a few ways in which a false belief in the goodness of our self can mislead and harm us. I pray this reminder to take God at His Word and view ourselves correctly leads us to greater holiness and as a result, usefulness to His kingdom.
Have a fantastic week and don't forget to check back for a new post every Monday! Carpe Diem, friends.