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There are three concepts that often get confused.
The concept of Humility.
The idea that God is so great compared to me so I will praise Him.
The phenomenon of Self-hate. The “I am Scum” syndrome.
Here is how I see them all played out in an improper jumble. A person is living a life that seeks after God and seeks to live in a right way. Person does something wrong. Person thinks, “I am an awful sinner. God is so great,” and moves on. Person does this enough so that even when person is not doing anything wrong they’re still thinking, “I’m just a wretched rotten sinner. Praise God.” Person endeavors to praise God and live rightly but deep down they become discouraged and start to feel they may never change. But they accept that because they’re still thinking, “I’m nothing but a dirty rotten sinner.”
Back to our three concepts.
Humility is important. Humility means recognizing our place and standing before God and our place in the universe. We are finite beings with problems. We are humans made in the image of God, able to know God intimately and able to comprehend His truth. We are many good things and many bad things all jumbled together. Humility is recognizing who we are compared to God and not trying to to exalt ourselves higher than we ought, but neither pushing ourselves down lower than we are.
Humility is not the same as self-hate.
Self-hate is when you start thinking, “I am scum,” and worse, “I can never change.” And variations therein. Self-hate is harmful and does not glorify God in anyway. In fact, self-hate is a direct contradiction of God’s words and values. God is love and God loves people, including you, therefore to hate yourself is to be disagreeing with God. To hate yourself because of certain behaviors is to say, “God’s love is not applicable to all people and God is not powerful enough to save me.”
Then there is the idea that God is so great compared to me, so I will praise Him as best I can. This is great! This is recognizing who God is, who we are, recognizing our weaknesses and bad sinful behavior and all God has done to save us. This is moving on from mistakes so we can praise God. This is good.
I think the mistake is when people think that they will praise God by hating themselves. I think the mistake is when people hate themselves because of mistakes they make because they see God as so good and only see themselves as so bad.
I think we make a mistake when we focus so much on our sin that we forget about our salvation.
In this way, it’s possible to make an idol out of our own sin. And our own selves. If we get so preoccupied with how bad we are, that’s where all of our attention is and we forget about God. We make ourselves and our in an idol.
I don’t think we want to do this.
So here’s an image. You’re running through a beautiful forest and you slip and fall in a mud puddle. You have a couple choices. You can decide to stay and wallow in the mud and play in it. You can get weepy and start wailing and sit at the edge of the puddle and miss out on the forest because you got some mud on you. Or you can get up and keep running, mud and all, because eventually you’ll come to a river and wash yourself clean. Mud is not going to hurt the forest.
This is repentance. Repentance is not a one-time event. Repentance is a process. A process of continually recognizing your mistakes and moving on from them. Hopefully you learn from mistakes and can avoid them in the future. Either way though, you keep moving, keep trying, keep living.
Repentance is not the same as self-hate. Self-hate doesn’t actually help you learn and doesn’t actually give any praise to God. Self-hate doesn’t actually say we believe in God or that He has saved us. If anything, a firm belief in the grace of God should allow us to be more comfortable in our own skin, knowing we are slowly being changed. If we really believe in grace and that God has redeemed us, then we should be able to freely move on from our mistakes. Run through the forest. Recognize who He is and who we are. Make praise because of love for Him. Not because we hate ourselves.