One evening years ago, I babysat my three sons, which meant I read a book upstairs as they wrestled each other downstairs. A shriek rang out and I raced down to find David, my son five-year-old son, holding his head as blood gushed through his fingers.
One of his brothers had pushed him off the sofa, and he hit his head against the corner of an end table. It opened an inch-long gash on the side of his temple. As blood pulsed freely, he sobbed uncontrollably.
Without thinking, I said, “David, I think that gash is going to give you a scar.”
He instantly stopped crying, ran to a mirror, and began to examine his wound. He pushed aside his hair and pulled apart the two sides of the torn skin. As blood spurted out of his widened wound, he exclaimed,
“I think you’re right. I’m gonna get a scar!”
Self-glory as Self-medication
I began this article with a dozen failed attempts, because I couldn’t figure out how to introduce its topic. My turmoil began when I overheard a Christian woman in a nearby restaurant booth defend herself from her husband’s comments: he had just told her she is harsh and grouchy.
She countered, “I am doing the very best I can. I’m learning that in my core, I am a loveable being, and when you criticize me, you don’t honor my inner, innate worth as a person.”
That woman, like my son (heck, like all of us), grasped for self-glory to sedate an inner pain.
Why Does God Love?
Many Christians today believe that God loves us because we are worthwhile and loveable. But that isn’t what Christianity itself teaches, as C. S. Lewis wrote,
The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been, not divine, but merely heroic; but God died for sinners.
He loved us, not because we were lovable, but because He is love.
This is what makes grace so uncomfortable: we get no praise. Human love is awakened by something attractive in the object of love: beauty, kindness, smarts, or success. When humans love us, we like ourselves, because someone else saw something good in us.
To the Roman world of early Christianity, and to our modern world, the two most appalling declarations of the gospel were and are: Agape-love and Grace. That God loves us because of his goodness not ours; that his love for us is not merely undeserved but directly contrary to merit.
Receiving grace requires the embrace of humility, the willingness to let God’s love glorify his name over ours. To receive human love feeds self-glory; but to receive his love glorifies his beauty: he is such a Being that he explodes with love, even for creatures who reject his ways, criticize his commands, and constantly grasp and claw for our own glory.
God doesn’t love us because we are loveable or good; he loves us because he himself is love and goodness. The Father’s agape turns our hearts to God-praise. Can we live with that?
Besides, it’s only when we (the unworthy) receive grace-love that we can begin to grant love to the seemingly unlovable: our grouchy spouse or our irritable (and irritating) colleague.
Because We All Grasp for Glory
When my three sons would get caught fighting, they always blamed a brother for causing it. But not the fight that resulted David’s scar. Both unscarred boys claimed (and claim to this day) that they are the one who shoved David off the sofa and gave him that life-long legacy.
For a boy, the only glory better than wearing a scar, is the splendor of bestowing one.