“Love one another as you love yourself.” The Man said.
That’s the task, isn’t it? Most people exist in a perfectly balanced state of complete self-loathing and absolute narcissism.
Or at least a “dysfunctional equilibrium.”
It’s quite a journey in self-discovery. When they came to paint Oliver Cromwell’s portrait, he famously refused the seventeenth century equivalent of photoshop and instructed the painter to do it “Warts and all.” There must be very very few indeed who are completely satisfied with their own appearance, and are truly comfortable in their own skins.
In the account of Jesus healing a man with a “shrivelled hand” (in Mark 3) there is a subtle parallel between the crippled man and the religious leaders who sneer and criticize. Perhaps Mark is hinting at something that we all know too well: that disfigurement of character is far more important than disfigurement of body, that real healing must be inside as well as outside.
Does that mean then, in Mark’s story, that the shrivelled hand is meant to remind us of the shrivelled people. That some people could look at an astonishing act of healing and miss the point? Apparently when Lazarus was raised from the dead, there were some who decided that if they were to properly discredit Jesus, then Lazarus should be murdered too.
It’s really hard to love yourself, when you know yourself so well, when you know the sort of ugly response that you are capable of. When Jesus said “One of you will betray me” they asked “Who is it?!” because they just knew that they were all capable of it, that they were all crippled inside, all in need of healing.
Recently, I was teaching High School poetry to some 18 year olds and we happened, in the course of the curricular strictures, to compare poems by John Milton and Sylvia Plath. In both the poems selected, the poets were facing a crisis. Milton was facing the onset of blindness, and Plath was considering the knowledge of her husband’s adultery, and a future without him.
They both looked into themselves, into the shrivelling pain that they found there. Sylvia’s path led to suicide, and John’s ultimate response was trust in a living God. What made the difference? (I realize that I’ve simplified the issue, but not too much).
The difference was how they understood themselves and their own value. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” said a wise Dr. Seuss.
So what is my value? Who do I think I am? If I believe that human life is just a “concatenation of circumstance” (a phrase from either Shakespeare or P.G.Wodehouse…you choose), a cosmic accident in a vast galaxy, then that belief governs the way I respond to life. Humanistic evolutionists believe in a long chain of development and adaptation, but ultimately, that we are animals, derived and developed from other animals. Behaviourists would see people as programmed machines. Existentialists would see us as an absurdity.
What do YOU think?
I think there must be more than this.