I know what it’s like to hurt inside – I mean, really hurt. Self-hatred has been a big issue for me. I used to think that to make myself feel better I needed to vent. After all, I saw other people vent, people with horrible tempers. Venting got them attention, and I wanted attention. I wanted to demand that people like me, because I was in so much pain. I was looking to imperfect people for the comfort I desperately needed, but I thought somehow it ought to work. After all, it worked for them. Why shouldn’t it work for me? I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to be heard, but in a good way. But if people wouldn’t be nice to me, then I wanted to be left alone. I figured that if I punched myself or scratched myself or inflicted physical pain upon myself, that the people who were bullying me would see I was suffering enough and show me some sympathy. Unfortunately, all it did was make them blame me, which in turn made me feel ashamed. Feeling ashamed made me angrier. It was a vicious cycle.
I didn’t understand what was behind this awful cycle until God opened up the scriptures to me and revealed that self-punishment was actually a form of Baal worship. You can see it in I Kings chapter 18 when the true prophet Elijah challenged the Baal worshippers to a contest. Each side was to prepare a sacrifice to but light no fire to it. Then they were each to call upon the name of their god and see which one answered by sending fire.
Elijah let the Baal worshippers go first. And so, they prepared their sacrifice. There were many of them, so it probably didn’t take very long. Then they called upon Baal to answer them, but he didn’t. They shouted louder. No one heard. Then they began to cut themselves – not just a little, but a lot. They cut and slashed until the blood was flowing.
Imagine for a moment the strong longing those worshippers felt. This was a competition. Much was at stake. To gain the people’s approval, they must prove themselves right. Sounds a bit political, doesn’t it? And then, to their chagrin, it didn’t work. They needed the people’s approval and their god was letting them down. Oh, what self-hatred, what anger, what guilt they must have felt inside! When you feel that way, you kind of want to riot. You want to blame someone. But does blaming others ever really make you feel better?
The worshippers’ self-inflicted pain drained them. The blood they lost was spilled in vain. That is what self-punishment is like, I felt God say to me. It doesn’t help you overcome hurt feelings. All it does is hurt you more. A merry heart does good like a medicine (Proverbs 17:22) but depression can make you sick. I should know. I’ve been there. The blood you spill will be in vain.
But the blood of Jesus spilled upon the cross was not in vain.
For “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The guilt of being sinners before a holy God is what brings us so much pain. Beating up on yourself won’t make it any better. Being forgiven is what makes us better.
“Be of good cheer,” Jesus told the paralyzed man. “Your sins are forgiven… Rise up and walk.” (see Matthew 9:2-7)
“He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4).”
Many things in life can make us sad, but despair is not of God. Man’s wrath does not work the righteousness of God (James 1:20), but “Go so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” (Revelation 5:12) He’s the One we need to worship. Lift Him up and praise His name, for He is the one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Trust in Him and you will find the comfort that you seek, for “Whosoever offers praise glorifies me: and to him that orders his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)