In a Tai Chi workshop I attended, the teacher asked for a show of hands to indicate if the class thought people were fundamentally good but sometimes did bad things, or fundamentally bad, but sometimes did good things.
I was the only one to raise my hand at the second option. Which shows how shockingly out of sync I was (and likely still am) with society in general.
And even then, I only raised my hand then because I knew there was no third option coming – people are fundamentally bad and always do bad things. Unless something else comes into play.
If I buy into the Christian thinking that I am born into sin and unworthy of God’s love by default. And, to make things worse, I choose to knowingly sin anyway, thereby nullifying whatever hope I might have had of a valid excuse, then… what can I do?
The humanistic view is that we have intrinsic worth because we are… well… human. End of. (When asked to explain why this is so without invoking a Higher Authority – it gets awkward. But more of that another time.)
I agree. Even in the most conservative and “unforgiving” of Christian views, I think this is acknowledged to be true, not least in the “made in the image of God” idea.
If there is a God, and God is the ultimate reality, and if He says we are made in His image, then we have worth. At the very least because of Him – whose image He made us in. If this were not so, God would have just nullified His own supreme importance, and is therefore not God.
But intrinsic worth is not to be confused with “deservedness”. (If someone can come up with a better word, please let me know.)
We can have intrinsic worth but not deserve things. Ask any prisoner who is rightfully in jail. He has intrinsic worth as a human being and as such is not executed out of hand, is given food and water and shelter.
But he has no rights to freedom, no privileges of food choice or where he sleeps. He does not “deserve” these, at least until his time is served and his sins paid for.
So, as one born into sin, who then follows on with wilful rebellion, I do have intrinsic worth as one created in the image of God, but I do not deserve God’s love. There is nothing I have done that makes Him morally obliged to love me, save me, and provide for me. Any more than a country is morally obliged to look after the welfare of an active enemy combatant, armed and still shooting.
In fact, there cannot be anything I have done that makes me deserve God’s love. I’d go so far as to say, there must not be anything I have done that makes me deserve God’s love. Otherwise, God’s love for me is not unconditional.
If general Christian thinking that God loves us unconditionally is true, then it renders all other arguments irrelevant. Whether I have intrinsic worth or not. So what? Whether I truly deserve love or not. So what? Unconditional means it doesn’t matter. What matters is God’s side of the equation, not the recipients.
However, just to be safe, I’d like to assume the absolute worst-case scenario: That I am truly unworthy and undeserving.
Even so, God still loves me. That’s what unconditional means.
Even so, God spares me the (just) punishment that I am due. This is called mercy.
Even so, God blesses me with all the amazing things I do not deserve. This is called grace.
And He does it without cheating either.
No turning a blind eye to my wrongdoings. No giving a free pass like how corrupted dictators do for their cronies. A price has to be paid according to His own law. A life is demanded for crimes that deserve death. And Jesus stepped up and willingly paid that price before I even knew what was going on.
God loves unconditionally and fairly.
So where does that leave me now when I hold hands with my fellows and we chant, “Keep coming back, it works if you work it, so work it, you’re worth it?”
I side-step it.
I was barking up the wrong tree the whole time. Trying to figure out if I had intrinsic worth or not. If so, did that equate to being worthy or not? If not, could I argue my case and at least have a measure of moral high ground even if I was to be condemned to hell for all eternity?
All irrelevant. The overwhelming factor that covers all permutations and combinations about my intrinsic worth and worthiness (or lack thereof) is God’s unconditional love. The preceding conditions make no difference. And this applies even in the worst-case scenario.
I might or might not be worthy, it doesn’t really matter.
But I know I am worthwhile. Because someone died for me to prove that. And that is where my assurance lies.