The author, Flannery O'Connor, said, "All I can say about my love of God is, Lord help me in my lack of it." O'Connor's characters often betray their true nature from behind a mask of good-hearted religiousity. This usually happens when the delusion they've projected onto the world is upset by personal crisis, usually by great hurt or harm they do to themselves or others inflict upon them. O'Connor believed that the "southern charm" so often praised by outsiders was nothing more than a cover for bigotry, pettiness, and unbelief. It motivated O'Connor to write: "I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted."
In a similar way, Martin Luther grappled with what he'd been taught as a young monk about loving God versus what he discovered in Scripture during his earliest psalms and Romans lectures. And by the end of his Romans lectures Luther became convinced that, contrary to what he'd been taught, human beings are only capable of loving themselves. Even our profession of love for God is a confession of self-love, of loving a god formed in our own image. That's why, Luther said, self-love was "the sum of all vices."
That means the underlying motive for us, for loving God, isn't a desire to enter into God's grace but our urgency to put ourselves first, last, and always. Luther said it was "plainly insane" what he'd been taught, that a man had the ability to love God above all things and with the help of grace, obey God's commands. He called his teachers and those who believed such things "fools" and "pig theologians." This teaching shocked Luther's students in the 1500s similar to the way O'Connor's readers were stunned to read a devout Catholic claim her love for God was nothing to brag about. What Luther and O'Connor understood is that every Christian is caught between two times. A Christian is a new man in Christ through faith, but also an old Adam in the flesh.
"The term 'old Adam' describes what sort of person is born of Adam," Luther writes, and "the term 'old Adam' is used not only because he performs the works of the flesh but more especially when he acts righteously and practices wisdom and exercises himself in all spiritual works, even to the point of loving and worshipping God himself." Because the old Adam always hangs round our necks, Luther taught, human beings not only "enjoy the gifts of God," but also, "seek to use God."
Just at that point when he believes he's most humble, most spiritual, most in harmony with God's grace, old Adam, because he is "in the flesh," seeks to use God to his advantage. On the other hand, when he meets those who confess their inability to love God apart from God's work in and through them, it's "pure idiot mystery," according to O'Connor, because our old Adam is Christ-haunted instead of Christ-centered.
Old Adam has a distorted image of Christ. For him, Jesus is an expression of God's love for humanity, like a big electric blanket laid over a shivering child. But, God's love is, in fact, Jesus crucified.