One of the fundamental flaws of fallen man is love of self. It causes man to think more highly of himself than he ought.
Symptoms of self love were first found not in man, but in a creature called Lucifer. For him it was a fatal flaw, for when he thought so highly of himself that he challenged the throne of God, he affected his own demise. On earth, in the garden, he infected the new humans with his own self love, by encouraging them to think more highly of themselves than they ought.
“Did God really say that? You most certainly will not die,” he told them, as if to say, “Don’t believe God’s words. He just wants to keep you from ascending to His level as a God. He doesn’t want you to have His wisdom, to be like Himself.”
Satan lured man with the same self-love that got him cast out of God’s presence. And the moment they saw the lure of thinking their own thoughts in opposition to the declaration of their Maker, pride took over their souls. They were mere created beings, yet so quickly they presumed to doubt the Creator’s Word.
God created man humble and dependent upon His instruction instead of dependent upon their own understanding, yet they were so easily overcome by their desire to be independent and self-determined.
Ezekiel, prophesying the destruction of the King of Tyre in chapter 28 of his book, describes the exaltation that turned to his pride and arrogance. Some believe the description is actually a description of Lucifer in his glorious array before he became known as Satan; others assign the description to Adam, in the glory of his original blessedness, before pride overtook him. The description certainly seems fitting to either:
“You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious stone was your covering…You were blameless in your behavior from the day you were created, until sin was discovered in you…Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom on account of your splendor. I threw you down to the ground.” Ezekiel 28:13- 17 New English Translation
God delights in exalting the humble, but rejects the proud in their self exaltation, as His Word says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
The sad history of the Israelites in their Promised Land was that when they were humbled, they turned to God and were blessed with abundance of God’s riches and grace, but when they were thus exalted by His blessings, they began to lean to their own understanding and return to disobedience and disregard of God’s instruction, causing God to humble them once more for their pride. And so it went until Judaism was humbled into virtual obliteration as a nation.
What is it about man that tends to believe that God’s gifts are the products of his own beauty, goodness and wisdom? I believe it is self love, inherent to fallen man, as opposed to love for God.
And I believe that is why the greatest commandments direct us away from self love to loving Him supremely, and, secondarily, to love our neighbors to the degree we love ourselves. Love for God with all our being subverts self-love and diverts it outwardly, so that we might truly be like God rather than pretend that His greatness and gifts are our own.
We are clay, clay that has been blessed with His breath and that basks in His glory. When we take His blessings and glorify ourselves for having somehow generated them by our own greatness, we make ourselves repugnant to Him and an eyesore to those who seek to live humbly before God.
We see those whom God has given great gifts and abilities – high intelligence, the ability to succeed in business, musical abilities, athletic prowess – begin to believe they are superior to others, run to fame and fortune and, soon afterward, find destruction in their excess of self exaltation.
Instead of recognizing the Source of their gifts and using them to glorify their Maker and sharing their blessings freely with their neighbors, in their self-love they consume them on their own lusts, like the “goats” who did not recognize the purpose of their abundance.
Self-love, or pride, is the enemy of God because it puts self on the throne owned by God alone.
Self-love, or pride, is what we have been offered salvation from, for it separates us from God.
Mary, in her Spirit-inspired hymn of praise to God, says of Him, “He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:51-53
What does any one of us have that we did not receive? Nothing. How, then, can any of us use His gifts – intelligence, beauty, talents – to elevate our thoughts and ways over His Truth?
Jesus told those who wanted to follow Him, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Denying self the center-stage of life is foundational to following Jesus.
It takes humility for a human to be in right relationship to our Creator. If we can truly humble ourselves to allow His written Word and His Holy Spirit to transform us, then in time He may see fit to elevate us. But as long as we use our God-given gifts as a means of exalting our selves, we cut off our access to the grace we need to truly become like Him.