The Reality of the Self
So I end up posting “Science, Love, and Faith Development” while simultaneously reading William Wilberforce’s “Real Christian”, and the two seem to clash rather brilliantly. Wilberforce argues at one point vehemently that the Christians of his era do not take sin seriously, and they do not take the sinful condition of man seriously. He forcefully points out the fact that man’s condition is one of depravity, and the Christian who progresses is one who takes this seriously.
So is Wilberforce right? Or is Hart right? Is spiritual growth tied to recognition and belief of oneself being depraved or belief of oneself being positive?
The answer, I believe, must be both because both are true. I am fundamentally messed up. I was born with sin wrapped around my little heart, and there are tendrils still choking the life out of pieces of my soul. But no matter how much sin has marred it, I am still made in the image of God. I am still a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, ruler of all His works. The human person is both horribly disfigured and unbelievably wonderful at the same time. Both are true, and therefore spiritual growth will be a continual discovery of both of these realities.
But there is a trump card.
Depravity may mean that the original perfect condition of the soul is fouled horribly. But even that which is fouled may still be and unquestionably is loved. A child’s beloved stuffed animal may be dirty, rubbed threadbare, so raw that the stuffing is pulled out, missing its button eyes, and discolored beyond almost any recognition, but as The Velveteen Rabbit notes, that stuffed animal may still be loved. In fact, it may be the love itself that leaves the toy in its tattered, deplorable state. The love remains.
An increasing realization of our depravity and sin is part of growing mature in the faith. But so is a growing acceptance of the fact that we are loved and accepted. Both must be held together, and, strangely, I believe that they aren’t held in tension. The are both realities. As we grow, we come to live in acceptance of both, remorseful for our sin but also grateful and comfortable in our belovedness.
Henry Cloud once said that there are multiple levels of the person that must be brought into relationship: the created self, the fallen self, the redeemed self, and the growing self. To paraphrase him, we must come more and more to say, “I was okay, but now I’m not okay. But that’s okay. And someday it will all be okay.”
I’m not okay. But that’s okay. Both true. Both of supreme importance to the Christian life.