I am a sinner. I have done many things wrong in my life. I have sinned against my neighbour and against my God.
We are all sinners. The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3:23) Every last one of us has failed God in some way, at some point. As I suspect anyone reading this knows, Christianity teaches that no sin may go unpunished, and no less-than-holy person may live in the presence of God. Our sins conspire against us to shut us away from God, and we believe that Jesus took the punishment due to us for our sins when he died on the cross. When he died, the punishment was given to him, in full, and when he rose again he showed us that he could give us new life in the presence of God, life everlasting.
The reason for the quick run-through of basic Christian doctrine is this: I know I am a sinner, but where does knowledge of my sin, and subsequent gratefulness to God for his redemption end, and where does my illness take over, telling me pervasive little lies about how really bad I am, and preventing me from living life to the full in Christ?
I think all who have had depression understand the weight of sin perhaps more than the “normal” person. When I am depressed I feel bitter sorrow for what I have done in my past. I really understand that sin is wrong, that a good God cannot abide with it, I really comprehend that:
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
On the one hand, sorrow over sin keeps me from committing the same sort of sin, makes me wary about doing something wrong. On the other hand, depression magnifies my sinfulness to the point at which I say, I am evil, I am worthless, I am nothing and God must hate me. I used to think that self-hate, that continually beating myself over my sin was a good state to be in, that I was doing what God wanted from me, that I was “beating my body and subduing it” in a good manner.
I have come to different conclusions, being well. I think we err when we let depression tell us we are awful. I think there is a fine balance between being aware of sinfulness and determined to change our ways, and being convinced we are the most awful person in all creation and worthy of terrible things. When depression strikes, we sometimes need to remind ourselves that we are not just the sins we once had, we are not just sinners, we are not the worst person in the world no matter what our illness tells us.
Seeing the truth, that sin exists and that God cannot accept it, should not mean that we accept a negative view of ourselves. Yes, we sin and have sinned, but God has chosen us. He chose us from before the foundation of the world, and he does not see our sin – because the punishment has been taken by Christ, because the charges against us have been dropped:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:13-15)
It is OK to like yourself, OK to value yourself, because God likes you, and God values you, and in the end “what greater love” – what greater liking for us, value seen in us, worth in his eyes can we have that he died for us? I try to think, who would I die for? I might die for my parents, or for my very dearest friends. I lie to myself and say I would be happy to die to save another regardless of who they were – but it is most probably a lie. Jesus died for us even though we were his enemies through our sin – but he valued us, he saw our worth and he died for us even though we were diametrically opposed to him at the time. That’s a pretty big statement of how much he loves us. The Lord of the Universe, dying for me? Well, he must think I’m pretty special. Of course I cannot get big-headed, the Lord died for you as well, but he set a pretty big price on our heads. As big as can be.
What I’m trying to say is that we should be aware but not obsessed by sin either past or potential. We should aim not to sin but not beat ourselves up for past sins. We should repent when we do sin – and God says he will forgive us. It is a big deal, of course we should not sin, but it is not the awful threat I thought it was. When I sin, it is inadvertent, and I repent of it. I am not a bad person. Neither are you. The Lord forgives us – and we need to forgive ourselves too. What right have we to say, I am not worthy of God? when he has declared us worthy? We need to be confident in Christ, and ignore what depression says to us. I make myself say or at least think this often: I am a daughter of God; I am a co-heir with Christ; I am God’s beloved; I am God’s friend. God loves me no matter whether I bring the worst of sins before him or the best of endeavours. He is my Father, my lover, my friend, and he has done the greatest thing anyone could do, for me, because I am worthy in his eyes.
Whether we are the worst of sinners or not, God loves us. When I cannot have self-esteem, I may rest on God-esteem – my mind may tell me I am awful, terrible, worthy of death; but my reason says that the Almighty himself has chosen me and redeemed me and that I may stand tall on what he thinks of me, no one else.