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:
I 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.