The Depressed Self

The holidays are the most depressing time of year, for those who love too much; themselves that is.

Over the holiday I had stumbled across an article titled ‘How Our Age’s Melancholy Stems From Loving Ourselves Too Much‘ written by pastor Peter Burfeind at the Federalist.

As is common knowledge, a good headline is the bait that catches the readers attention. This caught me because it is something that I had remembered either reading or hearing about from Luther that has stuck with me over the years and has helped me to see a different view of the effects of sin on the world.

The bondage of sin

Sin isn’t just external it is original to our nature, it affects not just our spiritual death, our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other; it affects ourselves. Our spiritual death; our natural inability to love God and neighbor apart from faith also has an internal effect. If we can’t love outwardly then we are always loving internally, always chasing out ways to make ourselves happy. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

During Melanchthon’s bouts of depression, Luther would direct him extra nos, or “outside of himself,” toward Christ and everything Christ implied, including his church, the sacraments, and the Scriptures.

How can self loathing be self loving?

Now, I want to be clear, there are some who, through the curse of sin in the fallen world, have a chemical imbalance that causes clinical depression, and God provides medicine to be used to help with clinical depression that is made from His creation. Yet, for others, Melancholy stems from loving the god of self too much.

When we are focused on ourselves, we are not focused on God and neighbor. We are loving ourselves with all of the love that is meant to be outwardly. This turns our emotions into our master. We become slaves to our passions; namely our sinful nature. Never satisfied, it chases after more and more, it promises happiness and security but becomes bored and in turn is always seeking something else. It is a constant liar promising bliss but leaving us worse than before. If left unchecked, if left without the gift of living and active faith, this nature stays bound to sin, death, and the devil; and the dead rotted fruit that it bears is an evil master; the depressed ego.

The problem now, as in Luther’s day, is simple. The problem is us. The enemy is our devotion to the “self.”

Constantly, our sinful nature is at our throats. This internal battle of daily repantance is nothing compared to the slavery of the unbeliever to thier sinful bound will; though the remedy is the same, Christ Crucified for You. The bondage of the self to the self is a never-ending cycle of chasing gratification, thinking it has found it, only to realize that it hasn’t found it. It is internal and self seeking. While the Gospel is external, and always giving. Our faith is not in subjectivity and internalized focus on self. Christ is external and He comes through external means by Word and Sacraments. This is important because faith points you outside of yourself, you are not the object of faith, Christ is.

In a hook-up culture, the impassioned lover is in love with love. No flesh and blood lover can fully incarnate this archetype; so the lover melancholically goes from one partner to the next.

Those addicted to pornography or Tinder embody this Gnostic ideal, sadly moving from one disembodied phantasm to the next, ever on the hunt for that bitter-sweet, illusive love.

It isn’t a chase for freedom it’s a bondage of sin

When the idea of love becomes an idol you will sacrifice your health, other people, and your soul in order to attain it. Yet it never gives, because the modern idea of love, is lust. It always takes and demands more. Relationships never become about loving the other person, they become self seeking. People become objects to be used and worshipped, until their cracks show through and they are far inferior to the idea that you had of love. You become bored, dissatisfied, and unhappy with this “love” and so you blame them for not making you completely sublimely happy.

Being in love with love is to love a mirage of our projected, idealized self. Such a pursuit is not only exhausting, but wholly lacks true fulfillment.

Placing such high expectations on others will always end in disaster because we are all sinners. God created us to love. We are supposed to love God and others more than we do ourselves. Yet, we are broken by sin. This not only means that others are sinful people in need of our forgiveness, and that we too are sinful in needing of their forgiveness, but that we can’t forgive or love them as we should. Not apart from faith anyways. This is true love, it is not self seeking and internal, it is external and pointed outward toward God and neighbor.

Yet, our modern idea of love is either a constant Hallmark moment or x rated filth. Both a distorted view of love where you are not the one selflessly, self sacrificingly, giving but the one receiving such giving. Never truly loving anyone except yourself. That outward love that God made us for, that image of God who loves and gives, what the sinful heart does is it turns all of that love back on itself, elevating the self above others and God, turning the self into an idol.

If the self is a god to be worshipped, then everything else serves the god of self. This means that relationships, materialism, lust, pride, etc… all become acts of worship of self. If the self cannot find happiness then depression kicks in. All of those outward things have failed to please the god of self and the search continues to find that special thing that will make self blissfully happy.

Thousands of dollars of therapy, religion seeking, self affirmation’s, etc… Try to soothe the god of self. Yet, you weren’t meant to be a god. You weren’t created to be self loving, you weren’t made to be self seeking, or to find happiness for yourself. Yourself was made to be selfless. What if love were external? What if your love weren’t meant for yourself but for God and others?

Returning to Luther’s counsel to Melanchthon: “Get outside yourself!” For Luther, this meant getting out of the monastery, getting married, and being “other”-directed. His doctrine of vocatio was the answer to vacatio. That is, one’s vocation — as a father, mother, child, employee, pastor, lay person, etc. — directed one’s attention away from self toward neighbor.

Get outside yourself!

Many people get the idea of sanctification as a self help program. Slowly getting better and becoming more like God. When it is more than that, it is a daily dying of self. It is outward focused and outward loving. Sanctification isn’t inward looking. True sanctification hates the sin of self, the Holy Spirit’s work isn’t to fix you, but to crucify you.

You are not getting better. You are dying because you are the problem. The new life, the sanctified life, the spiritual rebirth, whatever you call it is not about taking the sinful part of you and making it better. Nor is it so that you can look at yourself and see yourself getting better.

Sanctification is a set apartness, it is God moving you closer to Him. This is done by killing your sinful nature, not by curing it. The Holy Spirit isn’t sanctifying you so that you can focus on your good works and see how far you have come, as if the Gospel were some life change for the self. No, the holier you become the more you see your sinful nature the way that God does; in disgust. You are not a good person until that sinful nature completely dies, and that will never happen this side of heaven.

The world is shocked by such a statement. The Gnostic world we live in thinks that the internal self is overall good and that the internal self is all that matters. Self help, self love, is rarely about what is best for your body, it is about what makes the inner self better. Even most self help diets are vain attempts to love yourself by pridefully looking better on the outside. Yet, you are not a soul in some meaningless body. Your soul is not separate from you, you are both body and soul. And you, body and soul, have a disease.

You are body and soul, corrupted by sin. Your body gets sick, your body suffers, and your body dies. Your soul is spiritually dead until faith comes by the Word. This new spiritual life wages war against the sinful nature (the disease) until either Christ returns or you die. Although I must add that sadly in some cases, the converted sinner fights against the Spirit by constantly following in sinful passions that grieve the Spirit to leave. If you are worried about if the Spirit left you, don’t, that very concern is active faith. Someone without faith doesn’t care if the Spirit left them. Jesus speaks on this in the parable of the seed on types of soil, as well as the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Sanctification isn’t about the self being a better god, it isn’t a path of self help of better self love. If sanctification isn’t about you learning to better yourself then what is it? It is about God killing your sinful nature and the new man in you, you spiritually alive, daily living as Christ; loving God and neighbor.

Christians especially should consider the implications of a God who became flesh, who sanctifies the glorious and distinct beings comprising external reality. He, after all, is the “Logos,” or Being, who brought about and secures the “logoi,” or beings, of the created external order. Because of him, our “neighbor” becomes an object of love, not a character in our own psychic dramas. He draws us out of ourselves and into himself, the glorious “other.”

Love God Love Neighbor; because you are free to love outside yourself.

Freedom. It is hard to imagine that leaving the god of self behind and loving God and others is true freedom. Yet, it is. I’ve already discussed how the god of self is an unmericiful, cruel, self serving master. To be free from that type of bondage is true freedom indeed. This new life, as a gift of God though faith given by the Spirit through the Gospel, is free because it’s Life, true spritual life as you were created to be apart from the disease of the sinful nature (the Old Adam in you). You were created to be loving of others and you see this love now in the new man.

The new life loves because it has been born of God. Being freed from the bondage of self (the sinful nature, the Old Adam), you see others as God does; people to love. Perhaps (1 John 4: 7-21; 5: 1-5) summarizes this best.

7 Beloved, let’s love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.8 He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. 9 By this God’s love was revealed in us, that God has sent his only born Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we remain in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. 16 We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. 17 In this, love has been made perfect among us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, even so we are in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love him, because he first loved us. 20 If a man says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother.

5 1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. 3 For this is loving God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

We are freed from bondage and spiritual death and made alive through faith. We see the Love of God through the propitiation of Christ. Now that we know God is not angry with us, storing up wrath for our sins, we know we have a loving God. If we are loved by God in such an abundant way through Christ’s propitiation, then we are free to love Him and our neighbor. Perfect love casts out fear.

Now that we are not under the Law or trying to merit grace from God, we are free. Since God has no need of our good works to mediate on our behalf, since no good work will ever be close to Christ’s propitiation, those good works are free to give to those who need them; our neighbor. The intro verse of chapter five tell us that keeping his commandments (keeping his Word) is not burdensome. This is because in faith we are able to truly love God and neighbor, though imperfectly and tainted with sin, these good works are pleasing to God because they are done in faith, and not to merit on our behalf. Namely, they are not acts of self love, but love of God and neighbor. Being neighbor focused is to truly be selfless. If you are struggling with the blues, stop trying to love yourself, get outside yourself, and love your neighbor. As Christ held nothing back for you, He wants you to reflect that love outwardly towards others because He held nothing back to save them as well. God is love, He loves you, and He loves the world so much that He gave (John 3:16).

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One thought on “The Depressed Self

  1. An interesting read.

    One thing struck me is Luther’s doctrine on Vocation and the life outside of the monastery. It’s interesting out of our recent discussions that how one views salvation, grace, and holiness (sanctification) determines the entirety of their world view.

    The monastery has more value in a doctrine of grace that is infused than one that is imputed. Nonetheless, it does make sense, if one insists that we cannot live a sinless life through grace then a people set aside simply to offer prayers for the mystical body would seem unnecessary.

    Liked by 1 person

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