What does the Bible say about self-hatred?

Question: "What does the Bible say about self-hatred?"

Anyone who is without Christ and without hope or who adopts the world’s values may come to view life as futile and hate living (Ecclesiastes 2:17-18). Thus, a secular worldview may result in self-hatred. Presumably, we who have obeyed the gospel and love the Lord do not hate life; we are not without hope in the world (1 Corinthians 15:19; Colossians 1:5; Psalm 16:8-11). Even though we are sojourners and look for a better place, we hate evil (Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13; Amos 5:15; Romans 12:9), not ourselves (even though we sometimes produce evil). Because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by faith, we are righteous and should be glad; we should exult before God and be jubilant with joy (Psalm 68:3)! Self-hatred is the cry of a tormented soul, not the new song of one whom God has saved with His strong arm and for whom He has done marvelous things (Psalm 98:1). Yet, sadly, even redeemed saints can feel depressed and bereft of joy (see Psalm 51:8-12). Why is this? Certainly a repenting saint should have a broken spirit and contrite heart; but a saint should shun self-hatred as an inordinate earthly passion (Colossians 3:5) of the flesh (1 John 2:16-17).

According to Scripture, anyone who continually practices iniquity injures himself and shows that (in a practical sense) he despises or hates his own life (Proverbs 29:24; 8:36; 15:32). Saints do not continually practice iniquity or keep sinning in this way (1 John 5:18; 3:8). Although self-hatred is not godly, Christians may experience something like it when they harbor un-confessed sin and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. However, both unbelievers (those who have not confessed they are lost in sin and have trusted in Christ as their Lord and savior) and believers may fall victim to feelings of self-hatred, to the degree that they submit to the world’s values regarding beauty, success, and similar “markers of value.”

A person may come to hate himself for being old or physically ‘unattractive’ (however attractiveness may be defined). Some may arrive at self-hatred because they consider themselves losers who lack “needed” talents or resources (intelligence, personal connections, money, and influence). Anyone who actually thinks they must live up the idealized standards of beauty, success, and power that are portrayed in the mass media, and fails to do so, may arrive at the unreasonable conclusion that he or she is not worthy of love and begin to sink into self-hatred. Just as God warns us not to hate our neighbors, we must not make unreasonable demands upon ourselves and end up sinning against God by hating ourselves (Leviticus 19:17).

If you hate yourself because you do not “measure up” according to worldly standards, realize that in doing so you are showing hatred or anger toward God who made you as you are and placed you in your current circumstances. If you hurt yourself in an act of self-hatred, is this not truly an act of vengeance against God? Just as we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are to love ourselves and so show thanks and honor to the sovereign God who made us and placed us in our circumstances, no matter what these might be.

Having a healthy sense of self does not mean denying that one is a sinner. Scripture records instances when human beings, having seen the King, the Lord of hosts, are immediately overwhelmed by a consciousness of their utter sinfulness; witness the feelings of the prophet Isaiah: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Was Isaiah guilty of self-hatred? Isaiah is overwhelmed by a sense of his depravity when standing before a holy God. Our awareness of God’s holiness makes us feel appropriately wretched. But this sense of clarity regarding who we are and how we compare with an utterly holy God does not need to result in self-destructive hatred of ourselves. Rather, it is point us towards receiving the salvation and forgiveness that God offers us.

God our savior and Lord will ultimately deliver us from this body of death (Romans 7:23-24). As a result, we must forget the past and press ahead to what lies ahead – toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14; Luke 9:62; Hebrews 6:1). We must not get distracted, while running the race, or be discouraged by inordinate emotions or become warped and twisted by the corrupt values of the world around us. Instead of living on the basis of our emotional states or trying to live up to worldly ideals, we must continually live by the word of God and seek to please Him.

We cannot trust our feelings in matters of love and hate, for our sentiments in these things are unreliable. Sorrow that leads to repentance is a good thing, but self-hatred is counter-productive. Just as an athlete must exercise self-control in all things, the saint must not let fleshly self-hatred or its opposite (pride) control him (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). Fleshly self-hatred is worldly, leading to death; but godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance occurs when we turn away from our sin and towards God (Isaiah 55:6). As unworthy as we are of God’s grace toward us, we must believe His word, when He tells us that He forgives our confessed and forsaken sins; indeed, He utterly forgets them (Psalm 103:9 and Isaiah 43:25)!

When you are feeling down, examine yourself to see if you are harboring un-confessed sin, and pray that the Lord would grant you true repentance. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7). Notice the last phrase: He “will abundantly pardon.” You are forgiven! Therefore, rejoice and be glad!

We must not allow ourselves or our fellows in Christ to be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7). We must quickly forgive ourselves and restore other repentant sinners. Having repented, we must trust God, who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We must hate sin, but not hate ourselves, for we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. To continue in a state of self-hatred after we have received the grace God offers us does not honor God and demonstrates a failure to understand the nature and value of the salvation Jesus purchased for us with His blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Recommended Resource: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson.

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What does the Bible say about self-hatred?