Devotion Wednesday April 29
Cranmer’s Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter reminds us of the importance of finding the right motivation for seeking to be more like Jesus. While the Reformers would encourage us to pursue God and godliness out of grateful love, the reality is all too often we depend on guilt and self-condemnation to try to motivate ourselves to change. How does that happen? When we stop focusing on what God has done, is doing and will do for us. When we backslide into thinking we have to earn his love, self-hatred and despair are the inevitable result. Let’s take a look at how the lies of approval-earning work.
When we are confronted with our shortcomings, we fear God will reject us, because isn’t that what most people do when we fail to meet their expectations of us? And our fear of rejection lets back in all those old, overpowering feelings of worthlessness: “Look at what you’ve done. How can you call yourself a Christian? You should be ashamed of yourself! Who could love someone like you? No one! You’re just an embarrassment. A disgrace. A worthless piece of garbage.”
Once we accept that no one should love us, especially God, we head into a downward spiral of self-defeating behaviour. Fear of God’s rejection of us leads us to reject him first! We end up running away and hiding from God and his love, just like Adam and Eve did in the Garden: “How can you come to God, right now? Look at all Jesus has done for you, and look how badly you blew it, today! Who are you fooling? If you really loved Jesus, you would have chosen to look to him instead of sinning against him. If you turn to God now, you will only be a hypocrite. And God will surely reject you, as you deserve, at least until you show him that you have cleaned up your act.”
Of course, that’s the rub. When we seek to earn God’s love, the lie, in its cruelty, does more than shame us. It also offers us a false solution to our problem. It tells us must run right back to our old treadmill of approval-earning: “You better fix this problem. You better prove you can be different. You must prove that you are truly worthy of his love. If you hate yourself now for what you have done, you will find the willpower to change and never do it again. And only when you are different can God really love you. Only when you have proven you have changed can you really love yourself.”
Have you ever heard such lies whispering to your soul? Sadly, relying on self-hatred to repent just makes us even more susceptible to failure. Think about it. What is the hook that sin uses to entice us into its snare of self-harm through self-gratification? To feel good, if only for a short while. Clearly, it is not a strategy for long-term spiritual victory to make ourselves feel bad in order to have more willpower to say no to something that offers us the chance to feel good. The more we pull away from God out of self-condemnation and shame, the more we lose touch with his unconditional love for us. The more we lose touch with his love, the more we stumble. And, of course, the more we stumble, the more we suffer from more self-condemnation and shame. This downward tailspin of failure only leads to ever-deepening despair, as Cranmer said.
That’s why the Reformers rejected the medieval emphasis on punishing ourselves with self-hatred for sin. They sought to turn our eyes from our failures, to Christ’s victory on the cross. As a fully sufficient sacrifice for sin, we must do no more than trust God’s promise that it is enough to cover all our sins, too. For surely, looking at such love for us there displayed will nurture a grateful love in us to come closer to him by becoming more like him. Towards that end, let’s now prayer Cranmer’s collect for this week.