Worth and Worthlessness

God, speaking through Jeremiah, bared his heart to his people: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me” (Jeremiah 2:5).

When I read this I quickly asked a counter-question, “God, does our widespread human distaste for you really matter? Aren’t you so transcendent, so exalted in your glory, and so rich in your being that a human lack of desire for you impacts you about as much as a gnat’s landing on a rock?”

Yet I already knew the answer: we do matter to him. But it’s not because he somehow needs us; or because we offer him some benefits. Our worth comes, instead, in our bond to him as a valued creation, as the artist values his art; or a mother loves the child she births. And what’s more, he created us to be relational: as he is in his Triune communion. As those who are like him we were made to receive his love and to love him in turn.

As God spoke to his chosen people we can hear his heartfelt desire for them as he recalls the “good old days” when they learned to depend on him as they traveled in Sinai together: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (2:2). That generation of faithful ones—those birthed to the generation that grew up in Egypt and who were not particularly responsive—were treasured by God. And—as God’s treasures—their worth was immeasurable.

How great, then, is God’s worth-giving love for our generation of believers? Our value is expressed by his heart-investment in us. In love the Father sent Jesus to die on the cross to free us from our sin and death, an investment that signals our value to him: we, too, are treasures of his love.

Which is to say that he doesn’t value us for what we bring him “on our own”—for any assets we think might impress him—or for our efforts to meet any presumed needs we think he has. Is he desperate to be worshipped or honored? No; that sort of thing is nonsense because it starts with a premise that I have some inherent value or independent goodness that I bring to the table. Our value comes, instead, because of his investment of value in us by the fact that he created us as expressions of his love to be recipients of that love.

That’s not to say that we don’t have work to do in the context of that love. All of us were created for good works that he prepared beforehand for us to live out in our love for him and for each other. But that isn’t treated as a starting point. Instead it’s our entrée to sharing in God’s dynamic creativity. He is relationally active and he gives each of us a unique means to be active too: to “build up” others in the member-and-body analogy of Ephesians 4. We find the joy of his love expressed to us and then through us to others.

In the larger Bible narrative a constellation of images and analogies underscore God’s delight in us—his genuine pleasure in our communion with him. But this also sets up his grief: we can abandon our worth by despising his love. Listen to the second part of the verse we began with above: “[why was it that your fathers, my beloved people] went after worthlessness and became worthless?”

And here is the lesson: we, too, have our own invitation to the growing worth that comes as we live actively in God’s love. We then grow into what he made us to be—lovers who are gifted to love others. And, in doing so, we discover in practice the worth that comes with being treasured ones—children beloved by God. Everything else in life is worthless by comparison.

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3 Comments

  1. Gretchen

    Recently I was asked to speak to a group of women regarding depression. While, as a nurse, my talk included the clinical/physiological aspects of depression, my focus was on the very topic you address in your post. We have a God whose love for us overflows out of His Triune communion. His worth-giving, life-giving, heart-healing love can step into our wounds and losses in a way that nothing else can. And, as you shared, that love so transforms our hearts that we can then share His love with others. Thanks, Ron. As always, you have a rich way with words when it comes to sharing God’s heart of love!

  2. Tom Lyman

    This blog stirs up all sorts of responses. Our loving Lord created us to be relational with Him and others. He prepared good works for us to do. He endowed us with special capacities for excellence that please Him so much when rightfully employed in the power of the Holy Spirit. He has also endowed us with certain non-strengths that make us dependent upon others. They have strengths that correspond to our non-strengths and make us more dependent upon them. We are to work in relationship with our brothers and sisters. This is so pleasing to Him and it gives us our sense of balanced worth. It is when we take ownership of these things that we are put out of the game.

  3. R N Frost

    Martin Luther spoke of sin as a function of our being curved in on ourselves (“incurvatus” in Latin): a vivid way of speaking of our tendency to turn away from the Source of meaning, worth, and value Himself. Instead we find the decay of lost meaning, lost worth, and lost value. No wonder we begin to face depression! Thanks for that connection, Gretchen.

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