For the Christian, there is a right and wrong way to love yourself or your own life. One can disqualify you from being a disciple of Christ:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
The other leads you to seek you own highest well-being: God, virtue, wisdom, and so on.
Whoever obtains wisdom loves himself, and whoever treasures understanding will prosper. (Pro 19:8)
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
Elsewhere, Jesus puts the two ideas into a paradoxical statement:
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for life in the age to come. (John 12:25)
Now, why would you want to keep your life for the age to come unless you loved it? Chesteron once said, “One can hardly think too little of one’s self. One can hardly think too much of one’s soul.”((G.K. Chesterton. Orthodoxoy ,174)) Now, there are several ways to consider this apparent paradox of Jesus. I’ll offer three:
- The Radical View
Jesus means for us to be martyrs for the cause or not be disciples at all. And if you’re not martyred, you’re not really to enjoy this present life, mired as the world is in sin. But rather you are to relentlessly spend yourself and trust only the Holy Spirit to give you joy.
- The Two Natures View
You must hate your life, insofar as it is defined by sin. To hate your life means something like, ‘hate the aspect of you which continues in its passions, loves to sin, is enslaved to the devil, and so-on.’
- The Wisdom View
This is the idea that a knight, to survive must live as thought he has to concern for his life. In other words, because he loves his life dearly he must fight and risk as though his life meant nothing. Chesteron explains this well, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaneers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it.”((Chesterton 171))
The whole point though is that the motivation to ‘hate your life’ is the very love we have of our lives. In his less paradoxical moments, Jesus entices people to come to him to have life, and that to the full (John 10:10). And so a love of your life that leads you toward truth, goodness, and beauty, toward disciplined acquisition of virtue, toward a deep and abiding love of God, and toward a willingness to risk lesser goods for greater is good for you. But to love your life as is or so much you will not risk for that very life is ultimately to hate you life and therefore to lose it. Perhaps Paul says it best when he refers to Christ as “he who is your life” (Colossians 3:1-4). If your love of life is the sort of love that loves what God has given you and God himself, then it is good. One might call it redeeming self-love.