Dear Hurting Friend,
I’ll be writing this short post as a personal letter to you. No, I don’t have you personally in mind, and I don’t claim any sort of divine prophecy or special revelation, but I know you are out there reading. I know it because there are so many just like you, so many who quietly struggle with the devastating weight of addiction to self-harm. You are not alone.
Self-harm is a general term that can encompass a multitude of particular battles. It can take the form of anorexia, cutting, putting yourself in abusive situations, alcoholism, and too many more to list. It effects men and women, young and old, blue collar and white collar both. Again, you are not alone.
Here’s what this simple letter is not: a complete answer to your problems. Self-harm is a complex struggle, one to be engaged in the context of a support team that may include family, your pastors, and specialized medical professionals. But I do want to say something that I pray might be a help, and might be an encouragement to those who are suffering in the quiet shame of isolation. Perhaps this is the day when the brighter light of hope begins to break in upon your darkness.
I want to show you how self-harm is an anti-gospel. The gospel is the Bible’s message of hope and redemption through the person and work of Christ. At its heart is the historical event which occurred in Palestine approximately 2000 years ago: the crucifixion of Jesus. But the cross is not just an important historical occurrence, it is the very epicenter of God’s plan to rescue sinners from condemnation and redeem them as his own precious children. While our redemption does include aspects and events not strictly related to the cross, the heart of the matter is this: on the cross God the Father poured out His wrath against our sins, and Jesus Christ took that wrath upon Himself. He went through our hell for us so that we could go to His heaven. The Bible uses the word propitiation to describe what happened, which simply means that Jesus completely satisfied the wrath of God against our sins. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Self-harm is anti-gospel in two very important ways. First, in taking on the role of the one who must inflict punishment, you claim a position which is not yours to claim. God is the judge. He is the one who has the right to give out punishment, not you. He is the one who has the right to pour out wrath, not you. And second, in taking on the role of the one who must receive harm, you claim another position which is not yours to claim. Jesus is the Suffering Servant, not you. He is the Sacrificial Lamb, not you. He is the one who receives harm to make you whole. You don’t have to do it yourself.
Therefore, your self-harm is anti-gospel because when you hurt yourself, you are taking over the gospel roles of the Father and the Son. And what you are doing with them is really a devastating lie- because your self-harm is never motivated by love, while the cross is the pulpit from which God preaches to desperate sinners like us, “look how much I love you!” God first sent and then pours out His wrath on Christ because of love, Christ receives and propitiates it because of love, and the Holy Spirit pursues you and seals these things to your heart because of love.
My dear friend, God does not want you to harm yourself anymore. He so deeply desires your good that he harmed his own Son, who willingly participated in this Triune plan because of his own love for those who had scorned and spurned him. Could it be that today, this very hour, this very minute is when the loving hand of God is gently drawing you out of your brokenness, and leading you to a place of healing through his beautiful gospel? No matter how dark the night may seem, the light is always just over the horizon. Friend, you don’t have to do this. Jesus offers you a better way. My prayer for you is that you would lay aside your self-harm and the anti-gospel it preaches to you, and step into the light of the true gospel, a message of hope, love, and healing.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
(By: Nicolas Alford)