The Insanity Of Self-Help

Have you ever noticed how many people want to fix you? Entire industries are built around making you stronger, thinner, smarter, happier. At one time someone had to have a publisher or at least a spot on TV to be qualified to share his opinion about what you should be doing with your life. Now, in the digital age, the ranks of people dedicated to creating You Version 2.0 has bloated to massive proportions. Anyone and everyone can blog, Tweet, and podcast their personal journey to making a six figure salary from home while deadlifting three times their bodyweight, achieving relational bliss, and learning Mandarin Chinese in just five minutes a day. Subscribe to this blog, chip in your $24.99 for the e-book, and you too can join the ranks of awesomeness.

Caricature, yes. But not by much. Here’s the subtext of our world, over and over: you’re not what you should be. And we can fix you. It would be nice (since, after all, the lab rats for this human experiment happen to be the living, breathing you and me) for the Curers of What Ails Us to speak with one voice. But they don’t. Instead they shout over each other like street vendors at an open air market.

Perhaps it’s wise to step back, amid the cacophony of competing voices, and ask a question: if you’re going to fix me, do you really know what “fixed” looks like? Does anyone actually have the blueprint for the model man or woman? A doctor who took asthma as the standard for normal human respiration, or chronic migraines as the model for acceptable pain levels, would be deadly. But worse still the self-help guru who thinks a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions, or that the only truth that matters is found within you.

To put it another way, everyone who offers to fix, improve, or make over your personality has a model of what it means to be a healthy human being. And apart from God’s perspective, every one of the models will fall short in some vital way. To follow any man or woman’s Three Steps To Success – or to reject all outside help and build your life on “being your own person” – will inevitably truncate, shrink, crush, wither, and atrophy something essential to who you were made to be.

Only the gospel provides a true, complete picture of healthy humanity. Not the gospel reduced to (merely) abstractions or principles – but the gospel as it reveals to us a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, fully God and yet fully human. His earthly life showed us what a sane, healthy, whole human looks like. His death in our place replaced our guilt with innocence, our shame with honor, our weakness with strength. His resurrection guaranteed our own resurrection life. And his ascension to the Father’s right hand, to rule all things and to pour out his Spirit on his people, makes possible the extension of this holistic, holy humanity to everyone who trusts in him. “By believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). This life is not something added on to our humanness, an add-on or upgrade to ordinary existence. It is the restoration of what we were meant to experience all along: the eternal life that comes from knowing, and being known, by the only true God (John 17:3). Jesus restores us. Salvation is not a dog learning to talk, but a blind man regaining his sight.

Back to our beginning. If we’re honest, there is much about us that needs to be fixed. The Curers of What Ails Us don’t see the half of it – and even our own self-evaluation regularly falls short. But if you belong to Jesus, justified, adopted, and set apart by him, the recipient of the gift of his Spirit, the object of the Father’s measureless love – Someone is fixing what ails you. Slowly. Yes, at times painfully, even excruciatingly so. But never cruelly or unnecessarily. He is making you, and me, whole. He loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us as we are. As deep and as wide as our problem goes, so deep and wide is his searching surgery.

Beloved, what we will be has not yet been revealed to us. But he sees. And he loves what he sees.

Can you trust him to make you whole?

My wife Anna, son Elliot, and I live in the little town of Franklin, WV. I'm a pastor. I have a degree in wildlife biology, which is useful for pastoring (actually, no). I like books, nature photography, working out, and being with my family. In a previous life I was William Wallace.