Who Determines Worth?

I got into this discussion on another blog on a completely unrelated topic, and I thought that it might be worth posting here as well.  Many people feel themselves worthless, particularly when they sin, or they are told through the church that they have no value because they are sinners, making the worthlessness of humanity a doctrine.  Either way, belief in or a sense of worthlessness leads to self-hatred to a greater or lesser extent.  Given that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, hating ourselves leads to some pretty bad love of neighbor by that rule.  For that matter, why would God call us to hate what He loves so dearly – us?  The human person is far from worthless, and here’s why:

gavelI believe worth is not something inherent , though those things that may add or detract from worth may be.  Instead, worth is something that is externally bestowed upon something.  For example, when bidding for a jewel in an auction, who determines the worth of the jewel?  To the greatest extent, the worth is determined by the one who ends up purchasing the jewel.  He or she is the one that put the price tag on it; therefore that is its worth.  Given the finite nature of finances, people can’t always spend as much as they actually would, so the analogy breaks down a bit, but I don’t think it does completely.  Worth is to a large extent determined by the one assigning value.

When we look at humanity from this perspective, then the worth of a person is determined by God alone.  I can’t determine my own worth, and therefore I am at the mercy of whomever chooses to assign value to me.  I may have inherent traits that I can try to point to as being worth more or less and thus attempt to influence the “bid”, but in reality I’m still powerless to the choice of one whose will is free, and there is no will more free than God’s, He who chose my worth as being the blood Jesus shed on the cross. I’m leery of saying that we have no worth because that implies that God wasted His blood on us all.  That patience, life, suffering, and death are the worth we were given.

Some argue that there is nothing ultimately good in humanity due to sin, but goodness and worth are not necessarily equivalent.  Goodness is an intrinsic quality that I have control over (though I marred it from the start just like everyone else did).  Worth is an extrinsic quality that I have no real control over at all.  That’s God’s domain for each one of us.

In terms of spiritual formation, then, coming to grips with our own worth can be a crucial step.  To be in relationship with God, we must value both parts of that relationship, both God and self.  To fail to realize the worth of the self is to denigrate part of the relationship which in turn damages the whole and implies that the other end of the relationship has made some sort of mistake.  Thus, by not believing in our own value, we make God out to be a liar.  God by no means lies when He says that we are sinful, but we are still worth a great deal to Him, and we must come into agreement with Him in this reality.

This is often more difficult than it seems.  First, many have been taught (more through what they have experienced than what they have been told directly) and have come to believe that they are worthless.  It is difficult to change a belief, and therefore they face a difficult road to come to accept that God finds them valuable.  Second, we are told that we are to hold others as valuable as well, and in the church this often means putting ourselves down in order to elevate others.  Service to others is certainly good and shows the love that we are called to and have been designed for.  However, when we serve others at our own expense, that can come from love or from self-hatred or from a mixture of the two (from various other motives as well, though these are the principle ones for this discussion).  If we habitually serve, it may contribute to self-denigration or may be born of it in the first place.  The very subculture of the Evangelical church may urge us to not find or live from our worth.  Third, we generally come to equate our worth with something inherent to us or something we do – that is, something we control.  With this, we believe that we can enhance or mar our worth or become conceited because we believe we have something to do with it.  These are misunderstandings of our value.

Still, despite the difficulty and the potential pitfalls, the reality is that God finds us valuable.  He finds worth in us.  He loves us, and He created us.  And growth is to come to live within the reality of our value to Him.


4 responses

  1. Worth is inherent.

    As we are made in their image we represent various attributes of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in so far as we are a created being. You are correct in in saying that worth is not inherent in the view of our abilities or physical attributes, example: My singing voice is at the harsh mercy of the listener, my ability to communicate through writing is at the mercy of the reader and my personal style is only as attractive as the flow of current fashion trends.
    There is so much more to me than my ability [or lack there of] to sing, write or dress myself in a fashionable manner. There is something beautiful in the eyes of every individual, mostly this is something that is unexplainable, however, we know it is there. From the rich to the poor, the lonely to the popular our individual presence on this earth is infinitely worthy. Christ proves this by his willingness to go through with the cross. If you have ever seen a child play in the sprinklers you know this to be true, there is an elegance to their joy that is unexplainable.

    The pure fact that you have been created gives you worth, a worth that does not need to be proved or determined by anyone.

    I hope we have not crossed points here.

    Keep writing and expressing your heart.

    dennis gable

    November 3, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    • I simply disagree that worth is inherent unless you add the element of God being the one who defines it. Value/worth is something that must be defined by someone else.

      I will wholeheartedly agree that the fact that we were created at all makes us worth a huge amount. That we are made in the image of God makes us incredibly valuable. However, this is only because God wanted us here and still assigns worth to us in the first place. Worth has no need to be proven or determined, but it does need to be assigned, and the acts of being created, watched, cared for, redeemed, sanctified, etc. by God demonstrate that He has already assigned worth to us.

      A screwdriver only came into being because someone saw that it would be worth creating. It has worth according to the creator. Likewise, to the person who needs to tighten screws, it has worth and that gets demonstrated by the price he pays for it. To someone who doesn’t know what a screwdriver is, what good is it? It has no worth or value; it may as well be trash and probably is. The worth of the object is determined by the fact that there is someone with whom to relate to it. Likewise, our worth is determined by the relationship that we have with God and the fact that He values us.

      Far be it from me to say that we don’t have worth. We most certainly do. I simply argue that our worth is assigned by God rather than being inherent because that’s the nature of worth. Either way, though, our value is apparently very high.

      November 3, 2009 at 6:10 pm

  2. On some level we are merely battling semantics… We both agree that our worth comes from God, whether “inherent” or “assigned” as long as we agree on source of whatever worth that we receive I am good with that. Thank you for the conversation my friend.


    November 3, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    • I’d say it’s not quite semantics but rather a differing opinion on the nature of worth (as opposed to its definition), though you’re right. It’s moot in that either way we come to the same place.

      November 4, 2009 at 12:27 pm

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