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05.04.2018

A Gospel of Self-love? | Connecting with Culture

Warning: This piece contains spoilers.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the film will never be as good as the book.

That being said, however, I had high hopes for the newly-released A Wrinkle in Time, the Disney adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless classic.

Beloved by many, A Wrinkle in Time is the story of 13-year-old Meg Murry who, along with her friend and her precocious younger brother, is whisked across time and space by three ethereal beings to rescue her father, mysteriously missing for years. It is a book about how love for others, even in and despite their failings, is the most powerful force in the universe – even more powerful than the monstrous ‘IT’, the ‘brain-like’ creature that has trapped Meg’s father in a world of conformity and control.

Reflecting L’Engle’s own faith, the book is ‘replete with explicit Christian citations’, and biblical themes of faith, hope, and love are prevalent throughout. When Meg’s brother is possessed and controlled by IT during the rescue mission, Meg only manages to win him back by concentrating on her love for him. Love for others is what IT – this powerful, evil force – is ultimately lacking. Sacrificial love wins.

The film, on the other hand, is a crash course in what happens when you take almost all the Christian themes out of an inherently Christian book in order, it seems, to appeal to more people. The only faith present is faith in ‘who you are’, and the film – although beautifully shot with a star-studded cast – becomes a ‘bite-sized lesson about loving yourself’, rather than a world-altering adventure of discovering that people aren’t perfect, but love for them can conquer evil even in its most terrifying forms.

This film presents its Christian viewers with various challenges – moral, literary, and theological. My niggling question, however, is a simple one: are we in danger of reducing the gospel to a similar soundbite of self-love?

It is understandable that we would wish the good news of Jesus to be ‘accessible’ and ‘attractive’ to all, but do we water down our failings, the weight of our sin, and the need for forgiveness and Jesus’ sacrificial love – in order to talk more about acceptance and self-worth?

We need to face our own IT, to understand the true depths of our brokenness, before we can fully grasp the power of God’s sacrificial love in our lives – and the lives of those he longs to save.

Author

Nell Goddard

Comments

  1. Thank you. May self-love not become selfishness.
    God help us to put Him first then others and then ourselves
    Jesus, others, self. This is true JOY. Prudence

    By Prudence Eliapenda - 6th April 2018
  2. I appreciate the tone of this review is about avoiding dumbing down our faith, but I’m not sure that the church has really absorbed the need to teach us to love ourselves in order to receive God’s love and allow it to flow through us to others.
    The Dalai Lama’s translator wrote:
    “We were surprised when we started the compassion cultivation work that we couldn’t start with the traditional Buddhist compassion meditations, because the first step is based on an understanding that self-care and self-compassion are instinctual. But we found that many of our Western students needed additional help to learn to have self-compassion; they couldn’t start with this as step one!”
    What kind of God have we taught our culture to believe in, where we feel that the only way to serve him is to put ourselves last? We have learned to believe in a God of judgement and punishment, so it is so hard to believe that God means it when he says:
    “Love because I loved you first”
    “Love others as you love yourself”
    We know we ought to be compassionate, but to invest in ourselves is somehow selfish. In contrast, the research evidence presented in Adam Grant’s book “Give and Take” shows that generous giving is indeed good for individuals and the communities they are part of – but the rewards go to those who learn to be “otherish” (giving my own needs and those of others equal value), rather than the “selfless” (putting myself straight to the back of the queue) or “selfish” (putting myself first to the exclusion of others).

    By Jenny Cooke - 6th April 2018
  3. Thanks Nell,
    I share your concern about diminishing the weight of our sin and our need for forgiveness in order to talk about self-worth.
    I find that many people do not understand the relationship between self-esteem (or self-worth) and pride. They are very different.
    It is a subject that I addressed in an article for the Church of England Newspaper. Here is a link for those who are interested:

    http://www.churchnewspaper.com/28692
    .

    By John Steley - 6th April 2018
  4. Well written and well said.

    By Richard Taylor - 6th April 2018
  5. When I was 41 years old I was very heavily involved alongside my husband in our local church where we both wore many hats and had three children as well. Church life fell apart and went I into a major depression after a very serious viral illness during at which time I was given a medication which should only be used short term. Depression followed.

    My service for Christ and others back then was based on the phrase “Jesus first, yourself last and others in between.”. “Yourself last” was largely undoing. I learnt that God gives us richly all things to enjoy. I took up a very absorbing hobby gowing and knowing roses. At 74 years of age I grow all sorts of roses from species through heritage roses to moderns, 300 bushes in all. . This has also become my mssion field. Back then I lived my life in the ‘ Church Ghetto’ where we mostly talked the same, thoight the same and I knew very few not yet believers. Now I have a foot in both camps and have opportunities to witness and to love and understand those friends. Tiny outcomes of these relationships have been opportunities to pray with them and have a listening ear and invite them to church. Every Christmas I pray at our Breakup for the homes and gardens we have visited during the year and for the Creation of roses etc. And my health has been excellent ever since those dark years.

    By Bonita Cattell - 6th April 2018
  6. It is treason against the King of Kings, tone down the word the word of the Lord. C. H. Spurgeon.

    Amen sister!

    By Gary Stacey - 6th April 2018
  7. I hope the film will lead to many people reading the book! As for self-love, the gospel reminds us that we love because He first loved us.

    By Elizabeth Stanley - 6th April 2018
  8. Dear John (Steley), I have to say that I find the notion that we should “value ourselves” quite difficult/problematic as a Christian. I think the Bible teaches that we should take our focus off ourselves (admittedly difficult to do in the increasingly individualistic and self-obsessed society we live in) and instead look to Christ. We should be esteeming Him rather than ourselves as he lived the sinless life and died so that his righteousness might be imputed to us and we might be forgiven. Please read Tim Keller’s excellent, short book “The freedom of self-forgetfulness” or Glynn Harrison’s book “The big ego trip” for a much fuller explanation of what I’m trying to say here.

    By Daniel Barlow - 6th April 2018
  9. I’m reminded of the words of the Duchess of York in Shakespeare’s Richard II :-
    “Love, loving not itself, none other can.”

    By George Irving - 6th April 2018
  10. It’s important to remember that Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves. So if we don’t put some emphasis on loving ourselves, how can we love others properly? Like much of walking the narrow way, it’s a balancing act, between too much self-love and too little.

    As others have said, loving yourself too little leads to ill health and does not help us serve other people as we should. The JOY principle can be destructive for some. I agree with Nell, though, that if we stray too far the other way we can start to love ourselves too much and forget the reason that Jesus had to die for us.

    Thank you, Nell, for such a thought-provoking article.

    By Rosie Greenhalgh - 6th April 2018
  11. I’ve seen the film but not read the book. I came out of the cinema thinking that the story didn’t “work” somehow, and that perhaps it would come across better in writing. Having read your review, I now understand why I thought that!

    By Moira Biggins - 6th April 2018
  12. Great Article and Comments! All I would add is that Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirt comes: ‘He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment’ (John 16:8). Once believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, secure and comfortable in their new identity as sons and daughters of the King (The Supernatural Ways of Royalty by Kris Vallotton & Bill Johnson is a very helpful book on identity) then we are set free to love God, ourselves and others and can rely on the Holy Spirit to do the ‘conviction of sin’ bit. Remember the famous story of Smith Wigglesworth in the railway carriage…….!

    By Peter Riley - 7th April 2018
  13. If I remember aright John Stott emphasised our human worth because, though we are all sinners, God counted us worthy of his love and self-sacrifice. This helps me to see that I am (and every person is) loveable in God’s eyes and to seek to give others the worth that He gives to them.
    We need to preach the love and mercy of God together; putting Him first involves making his values our practice i.e. treating self and all others as equally worthy of love.

    By Bob - 7th April 2018
  14. Well said Nell. Reading all the above comments reminds me that we all (me included) desperately need the presence and enabling of the Holy Spirit to get this ‘loving’ thing right, in whatever context we find ourselves.
    Whole of life discipleship will always be dependent on the fruit of the Spirit working in and through us. Someone once said ‘Without me you can do nothing’ – now who was that methinks?

    By Paul Bridle - 7th April 2018
  15. Thank you Daniel. I do not see looking to Christ and valuing myself as an either/ or choice. In fact, I take care of my body, try to develop my gifts and abilities, and generally treat myself well because I love God.

    As a Christian I believe that we were created in God’s image. If we are Christians then our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. To properly care for my body and to develop my intellect, for me, is an act of worship to God – It also equips me to serve God better.

    I think part of the confusion around this matter stems from what we understand by self-worth (or self esteem.) As a psychologist I see self-worth as a healthy human attribute. It is indicative of a genuine love of oneself.

    However, all too often I find that self-worth/self-esteem is confused with pride or narcissism. Pride/narcissism is not the genuine love of oneself. It is the love of one’s image. That is, how I want to be seen by others. (You may recall how in the Greek myth Narcissus fell in love with his image reflected in the water.)

    People who are narcissistic do not love themselves. They may show off and try to impress others with their achievements, intelligence or good looks but this has to do with image, not reality.

    The point I am trying to make here may but subtle but I think it is important. Please read my article if you have not done so already and get back to me if you want.

    By John Steley - 7th April 2018
  16. Jenny Cooke – spot on.

    By Dave Challis - 7th April 2018
  17. It really is time we threw this ‘yourself last’ business out of the window. It is false humility and pseudo spirituality. It’s also not what Jesus said: love your neighbour AS yourself. If you do not rightly love and value yourself – how can genuinely help others to do the same for themselves?

    By Jean Watson - 9th April 2018
  18. The difficulty I have with saying we must understand the depths of our brokenness before we can grasp the power of God’s sacrificial love, is that it follows a pattern of sin, then repent, then be glad. This might be fair for those whose lives reflect the trajectory of the prodigal son, but not everyone does. What of those who are born into a Christian family and who grow in conscious relationship with God from a young age. Much of the ‘self love’ rhetoric in society is a backlash against people being told they’re inherently sinful from a young age – a message which (whether true or not) is very damaging to young minds and has caused much distress to many who are now church leavers. It strikes me that awareness of one’s sin and capacity for sin comes with maturity. Meanwhile, it is more important to believe in God’s faithfulness to his good promises, and to frame sacrifice as an outpouring of self, than to be consciously aware of the lengths God has gone to in order to bring us out of sin.

    By Christine Woolgar - 10th April 2018

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