Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Self-hate is a topic that gets talked about a lot. So how would you go about sharing the gospel with an unbelieving friend who struggles here? “Hello, Pastor John. I’m Reynaldo from Jakarta. I listen to your podcast more than I read my Bible — and I should change that habit!” Yes, Reynaldo, you should change that ratio immediately! “My question: I have a friend, and she is a Buddhist. She struggles with self-hate, and I am confused about what I have to do about it. I listen to her, and I want to help. But what should I do?

“I could give her a self-help book, I suppose. I’m afraid if I get straight to the gospel (which I don’t have a problem saying to her), she will not listen to me. But if I gave her a self-help book, with tips about overcoming this anxiety, I’m afraid that she might improve without experiencing the forgiveness of Christ. So I guess I want to share the gospel sooner than later. If you had a non-Christian friend who struggled with self-hate, how would you proceed?”

Complicated Struggle

Well, let me just underline Tony’s misgiving about reading or listening to Piper more than the Bible. That really is a serious problem, so fix that. The Bible is the source. Piper’s just a muddy stream. Fix that.

“All of our hateful, sinful ugliness will be taken away, and Jesus will return and transform our lowly body.”

This question is difficult to answer because there’s just so much to say from the Bible about someone struggling with self-hate. The problem in answering this question is not a lack of biblical material that addresses it; the problem is that I don’t know her, and I don’t know Reynaldo.

I need so much more information about what her true issues are. I need to know what’s going on to bring her to this point. How’s it expressing itself? How deep and serious is it? And on and on. I really want to be careful here. I’m going to make some suggestions, but I make them provisionally as to what the best strategy is here and trust that the Holy Spirit will help Reynaldo to know what to do with what I say.

Give Her Bible

What about drawing her, Reynaldo, into a discussion about biblical passages that leads to a sharing of the gospel through her own curiosity and her own perplexity about those very texts — those passages that you share with her? I’m thinking this might be a path forward because of the little bit I know about Buddhism and because it comes to my mind as I pray for how to help. Here’s what I have in mind.

Ask her if you could give her some passages from the Christian Bible with a view to getting her opinion about what she thinks about them and how they make her feel. If she’s a Buddhist, she would probably approach them in a more or less moral or philosophical way, so you wouldn’t expect that she would have any grasp of the gospel at all.

You simply want to get her into God’s word on a topic that is very relevant to her. Now, if she’s willing, then you might share with her texts like the following. You might give her a whole Bible, put some bookmarks in, circle the verse or show her where to find them, and that way she would be able to read the context as well if she were curious.

Surprise Her with Truth

If she is willing, you would be pointing her to verses like these:

“Self-hate is redeemable by the amazing blood of Jesus and what God has done to save her.”
  • “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). Now, that would really perplex her, I presume. I’m guessing it will really bother her, which is what we’re after.
  • “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).
  • “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
  • “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11).
  • “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).
  • “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28–31).

Now, my guess is that these texts will simply leave her baffled. Hopefully, when you have your next conversation, she would say, “What in the world did you give me these texts for?” You would say, “Let’s just take them one at a time, and you show me what they made you think and feel.” You’re into it.

Follow Up

Where you go from there would depend almost entirely on how she responds to these passages. My assumption is that she would be really perplexed about a passage like John 12:25, which calls for self-hate, and some that assume self-love, like Matthew 22:39.

Then, from there, you’d want to lead her toward teachings about sin in relation to the glory of God and talk about how that affects our worth. Then, hopefully, you’d go toward the coming of Christ and his death, who laid down his life — a kind of self-hate — for the sake of our life (1 Peter 2:24). Then, you’d move on from there to how that purchases sinners for God to love them and forgive them and accept them and possess them as his treasured possession (1 Peter 2:10). That would lead on to a life of loving and treasuring Christ more than life itself because he’s so valuable.

“Jesus’s death purchases sinners for God to love, forgive, accept, and possess as his treasured possession.”

That would lead on, maybe, to the promises you could give her that we will be changed into the image of Christ. All of our hateful, sinful ugliness will be taken away, and Jesus will return and transform our lowly body (Philippians 3:21). I don’t even know if her issue is body hate or if it’s mind hate or soul hate. I don’t know what’s going on, but he’s coming back to give all of us a brand-new body. This body will be glorious like his glorious body.

The Blood That Redeems Us

Who knows where the Lord may lead these discussions, Reynaldo, but what I’m suggesting is this: Instead of a frontal presentation of the gospel for which she might have zero categories in her Buddhism to comprehend at first, try drawing her into a serious give-and-take engagement with the Bible. Remember, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Then, pray earnestly for the Lord’s guidance toward the gospel where she can see it. I pray she will see what self-hate looks like and feels like when it is deeper than she thinks, and yet redeemable by the amazing blood of Jesus and what God’s done to save her.