What is known as “the golden rule” comes in Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. He said:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
This is an amazing teaching which, if followed by all, would be truly wonderful. To treat others as we would be treated makes us live a life considering others, caring for others, as much as they were ourselves. Remember that Jesus also said we are to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 19:19, and elsewhere).
A fine and valid teaching for all Christians to do their best to achieve, but why am I mentioning self hatred? Underneath the surface in me, as in many with mental health problems, lies a bubbling pot of self hate. Concealed most of the time, it bursts forth when I am feeling depressed, and I torture myself with visions of how other people hate me, or would hate me if they knew me, of inadequacy and sin toward God and man, far in excess of what I actually have done. This is the emotion that drives me to cut myself – because I am worthless, and deserve punishment. This is the emotion that whispers seductive ideas of suicide in my ears, because I do not deserve life. This self hatred is a serious problem both for my mental health in general and also for my spiritual health, for it stops me appreciating the gift of grace that God has given me, and blinds me to whatever other gifts he has given me.
So when I am trying to do to others what I would have them do to me I face a quandary. The same applies when I reflect that I am called to love my neighbour as I love myself. That is the problem. I do not love myself and I do think I deserve bad treatment, and when I am ill, I have tried to get this bad treatment. I have been irritable, argumentative and unpleasant to others in an effort to get them to condemn and reject me, because that is what I feel I deserve. I have reserved my unpleasantness for those who are closest to me, the ones whose rejection would wound me the most, because I deserve it.
Wrong on so many levels, both how can I act in such a non-loving manner to those I love the most, and how can I try to get them to hurt me by hurting them? It is, I realise, the antithesis of what I as a Christian am supposed to do to others, and it is this more than anything that both mortifies me when I am well again, and is my besetting sin. I do think it is sin – because I do not believe that we can be tempted into sin unless there is a part of us which wants to commit that sin. I, for example, am not tempted when manic to commit sexual sin – because I am not interested in that when well, or ill. I am tempted, and far too often give in, to commit crimes against my neighbour – my family, my friends, to treat with utter disrespect those who care for me and about me.
How can I treat another as I would be treated if I want to be treated badly? I have a nasty, perverse nature lying in me and which comes to the fore when I am depressed. As I have explained, I want to be treated badly so I treat others badly to provoke a response. This is a disgusting perversion of Jesus’ words and something I am very ashamed of when well. In fact I don’t think I have admitted to this to others before, because it is just so twisted.
What I try to do is to keep in mind others’ feelings. Sounds easy, but the more mentally ill I become the less notice I take of the world around me and other people. I try to hypothesise and say, If I were a good person, I would want to be treated like X, if I was as nice as my friend I would want to be treated in this way. I have to use if statements because I often cannot accept that I am worthy of good treatment. I should do – because if one strand of Christianity overemphasises our sinfulness, there is the other side who perhaps overemphasises our worth in God’s eyes, and I should be able to find a balance somewhere. If my words could convince someone in my state of mind, then I would gladly say that yes, we have behaved badly, but God did not come to us when we were perfect, expecting us to be perfect, he came to us when we were at our worst, because he loves us, because he wants all things for us, because he is our friend. Just like a friend in human life who I shouldn’t hurt as a sort of non-physical self injury, I should not assume that Jesus wants to hurt me either. I shouldn’t hurt either of them by my behaviour. Perhaps one day I will truly understand, truly accept that I am worthy, because God has made me worthy. Perhaps then I will see that I deserve good treatment, deserve my own care and love because, just as my neighbour is worthy of those things, so am I. Even if I am the least in the kingdom I have been chosen by the King.
Another technique I try to use is to say how would I want Jesus to be treated? If my neighbour was really Jesus in disguise, how would I want my behaviour to be? If I can see the face of Christ in my neighbour then I can treat them as they should be treated. After all, when we give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to those naked, visit the sick, visit the prisoner – all these things we are doing for Jesus.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Whatever I do for another is for Christ. Even if I cannot love myself, or treat myself well, I should do so for others in the name of Christ. I must fight with everything that is in me the temptation to hurt myself using another – for it is one thing to cut myself with a blade, quite another to cut myself using the emotions of another. One day, I will be able to treat myself to a standard I would give to others.
- The Golden Rule (meditationsfromthehive.wordpress.com)
- Hebrew Multifaith Golden Rule Poster now available free online (nainblog.wordpress.com)
- neighbors (lifeverboten.wordpress.com)