The following are excerpts from Brennan Manning’s book, Abba’s Child.
“Our God, it seems, is One who benevolently gives [things] and capriciously takes them away. When He gives them, it signals His interest in and pleasure with us. We feel close to God and are spurred to generosity. When He takes them away, it signals His displeasure and rejection. We feel cast off by God. He is fickle, unpredictable, whimsical. He builds us up only to let us down. He remembers our past sins and retaliates by snatching … health, wealth, inner peace, progeny, empire, success and joy.
And so we unwittingly project onto God our own attitudes and feelings toward ourselves. As Blaise Pascal wrote, ‘God made man in his own image and man returned the compliment.’ Thus, if we feel hateful toward ourselves, we assume that God feels hateful toward us.
But we cannot assume that He feels about us the way we feel about ourselves – unless we love ourselves compassionately, intensely, and freely. In human form Jesus revealed to us what God is like. He exposed our projections for the idolatry that they are and gave us the way to become free of them. It takes a profound conversion to accept that God is relentlessly tender and compassionate toward us just as we are – not in spite of our sins and faults (that would not be total acceptance), but with them. Though God does not condone or sanction evil, He does not withhold His love because there is evil in us.
Because of how we feel about ourselves, it’s sometimes difficult to believe this. As numerous Christian authors, wiser and more insightful than I, have said: We cannot accept love from another human being when we do not love ourselves, much less accept that God could possibly love us.
It is one thing to feel loved by God when our life is together and all our support systems are in place. Then self-acceptance is relatively easy. We may even claim that we are coming to like ourselves… But what happens when life falls through the cracks? What happens when we sin and fail, when our dreams shatter, when our investments crash, when we are regarded with suspicion? What happens when we come face-to-face with the human condition?
Simon Tugwell, in his book The Beatitudes, explains: And so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy. We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing. We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public. And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like.
But God loves who we really are – whether we like it or not. God calls us, as he did Adam, to come out of hiding. No amount of spiritual makeup can render us more presentable to Him. As Merton said, “The reason we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with God is that we so seldom acknowledge our utter nothingness before him.” His love, which called us into existence, calls us to come out of self-hatred and to step into His truth.
God not only forgives and forgets our shameful deeds but even turns their darkness into light… Christians who remain in hiding continue to live the lie. We deny our reality of our sin. In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. if we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others. We cling to our bad feelings and beat ourselves with the past when what we should do is let go. As Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, guilt is an idol. But when we dare to live as forgiven men and women, we join the wounded healers and draw closer to Jesus.