Often times, the most challenging person to accept is ourselves. We learn that our own self can be one of the hardest people out of everyone to love. Speaking from experience, I have struggled severely with finding contentment with who I was.

In my eyes, I never thought I was good enough to be loved. I could never perform or do enough to see myself as worthy of love, much less be seen as lovable by other people. My grades were never high enough for me to be proud of my work and efforts. I wasn’t smart enough, and not talented enough to be significant. I was too discontent with my self-image, too afraid of failure, and certainly too broken to be loved by God or by anyone.

I did not realize this initially, but my inability to love and receive myself prevented me from loving and receiving other people as they were. Out of this fear of rejection of other people, I was daily driven by self-protection to never let people see the real me because I thought I was unworthy. Out of this fear I was never able to fully embrace and love people in their brokenness because

I was afraid of my own brokenness.

Through nothing short of the grace of God, and dedicated people I am proud to now call my spiritual mentors, I was brought to a place of understanding the gravity of my brokenness and how our relational God was and is committed to loving me exactly as I am. When I understood how God’s love broke through my layers of shame and fear, my schema in seeing other people was completely deconstructed. In its place, God began rebuilding how I saw that in the midst of other people’s brokenness they are unconditionally and unapologetically loved by God who is Love’s self.

God’s love overcomes all of our obstacles and barriers. Sociologist and theologian Stephen G. Post describes “[t]his love, when effective in our lives, gives rise to social change through the active affirmation of the dignity and worth of all human beings without exception. Dignity comes from the Latin word for ‘worth’… Dignity is about the nobility, majesty, wonder, and greatness of each human being in relation to God’s love, despite degrees of decline, frailty, and mortality. Such dignity arises directly from the assertion that we human creatures are all within the special concern of God’s love.”[1] When we encounter the divine love of God, we are moved beyond our mechanisms and habits of self-protection.

Self-protection causes us to be exclusive in our love.

Self-protection keep most people at bay, unable to cross the threshold of vulnerability, intimacy, and true relationship. Under the guise of self-protection, lies about ourselves run rampant, spreading untruths to the tune of “you are not loved.”

When we come to realize that God already knows us, really relationally knows us as we are, and yet still loves us, maybe we can look at our messiness, and brokenness and even venture into the dark places without fear. We can in turn see the dark places in others and love beyond our humanly capacities.

Godly love affirms the dignity and greatness in other people. This love empowers us to see the good and the worthiness in even the most sinful and heinous of people. It challenges us to consider their struggles with loving themselves. Rather than making us enemies against them, we empathize with their inability to receive themselves because they, similar to us, are likely oblivious of their own self-worth as ordained by God.

Sin is sin. We are all broken. God loves because God is love. One cannot earn it with any acts or deeds; it is a gift. The Asian man coming from Confucianism and into embracing Jesus is loved no less than the American girl who grew up in Christian home finally accepting her identity in God. Unlimited and unconditional love is not restricted to those within the Christian tradition, or only those of the Abrahamic faiths. Who are we to become arbiters, deciding who is and is not deemed worthy by God to receive His love?

God loves because God is love

We wield many emotions and actions under the professed banner of love, but perhaps we should take a step back to observe if our motives and steps are truly in sync with God’s love that desires to be in relationship with all of humanity. Hatred and revenge are divisive. Imposing shame over sins drives a person away from understanding her inherent worthiness and dignity. If our image of God acts along the lines of hatred, revenge, and shame, thus causing us to bear similar fruit, then perhaps our image of God should first be redefined and restored.

Jesus gives the Great Commandment upon which the Law and the Prophets are dependent. To love God with everything in us, and to love our neighbor as ourselves are complexly intertwined with each other ( Matthew 22:36-40). The connection between this call to divine life and living, clarified in meaning for me. To the extent that we relationally know and live as we are truly loved by God is the extent that we can love other people.

[1] Stephen G. Post, “Godly Love: Why We Cannot Endure Without It,” in Science and Theology of Godly Love, ed. Matthew T. Long and Amos Yong (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2012), 20-21.