Is Self Worth a Biblical Concept?
Mental health is a very real issue. In part 2 of his article Christian, Mental Health Matters, Kevin Cowdrey mentions the following statistics:
‘1 in 4’ people experience mental health problems.
The World Health Organization estimates that between 35% and 50% of people with severe mental health problems in developed countries, and 85% in undeveloped countries, receive no treatment whatsoever.
The number of suicides, both male and female, recorded in 1980 as opposed to 2018 show an increase of over 200% rising from 118 recorded deaths to 307.
Statistics like these should be alarming to believers. These statistics become more alarming when we realize that the current mental health crisis is also profoundly impacting The Church.
Many people believe that Christians are impervious to such things as depression. We are not. Our English word depression finds its origins in the Latin term deprimero, which means “to press down. Is it possible for a believer in the Gospel to feel pressed down? Do Christians ever feel small, invaluable, insignificant or flawed? Yes. We are not immune to thoughts and feelings like these.
Apart from chronic mental conditions (which often have medical solutions), there appears to be a common denominator in the lives of every Christian who suffers from or has suffered from depression: a failure to acknowledge their own personal worth. These thoughts and others like them prompt the title question: is self-worth a Biblical concept?
We often say that the Bible is our final rule for all faith and practice. At the end of the day, the most important question is, What does God say? Is the idea of self-worth a biblical concept?
MATERIAL CREATION AND SELF-WORTH
In this article we'll explore our worth in light of creation. Whether it be our larger brain capacity, our opposable thumbs or our intelligible languages; mankind is distinct from animal-kind. The comparative value of human beings to animals is undeniable. However, there are greater reasons (biblical ones) as to why mankind has self-worth.
Let me just give some context for the material that follows. Not only are Christians not immune to depression and poor mental health, preachers are not, either. In fact, this preacher is not immune. I’ve found the most beneficial practice is to rest in what God says about who I am.
I am an image-bearer of God.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1v27)
Of no other creature does God say, “I made you in my image.” Only a surface knowledge of biology reveals the complexity of all of God’s creation. Yet, there is no creature as unique and valuable as humans. Simply by existing, you and I possess intrinsic value. The uniqueness of our lives says something unique about God.
As an image-bearer, my existence glorifies God.
“For you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev 4:11b)
All of creation glorifies God. Yet, only mankind bears God’s image. There is a glory for God to receive that is reserved for mankind. You and I are uniquely equipped to glorify our Creator above all of His creation. There is an undeniable worth on our lives.
As an image-bearer I have worth.
“And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, you shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
We are called to love God supremely and display His value to us. Christ calls this the greatest
commandment. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbours. These are the two
greatest explicit commandments in all of Scripture. Yet, there is an underlying implication in the second command. What is the measure of our love for our neighbour? Love your neighbour as yourself.
Why? Because there is intrinsic worth upon our lives.
Dangers and Misunderstandings
It is important that we distinguish between self-worth and self-service. In Matthew 6:25-34, the Lord
Jesus expressed the irreducible value on mankind’s life: “Are you not much better than [animal life and plant life]?” Yet, He instructed them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We have worth and we should value our own lives, but we should serve God and Him alone.
I believe that it is no coincidence that the lowest moments of many of the heroes of the Bible coincide with expressions of self-hate. For example, this is seen distinctly in the narrative accounts of
Jonah and Elijah.
Jonah 4:8- “And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’”
1 Kings 19:3-4- “And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life… and came and sat down under a juniper tree. And he requested that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough. Now, Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’”
Both of these men fell into the trap of allowing their circumstances to alter their perception of
themselves and their own personal value. Anytime that we allow our circumstances to dictate our
perception of ourselves, we fall prey to the circumstances.
In his book His Image My Image, Josh McDowell sheds detailed light on this concept:
“Your self-image is like a set of lenses through which you view reality. Based on what you see
through those lenses, you choose a pattern of behaviour you consider appropriate for a
particular situation. If your lenses distort the situation, your behaviour won’t fit in with reality.
The healthier your self-image, the more accurately your lenses let you see the reality and the
more appropriate your behaviour in response.”
On a personal note, most of my life I have struggled with a poor image of myself. For example, in my mind, I am a monumental failure. I have the tendency to believe that I mess everything up. This is a daily struggle for me. Therefore, when I do mess up, I tend to fall apart and allow that particular failure to define my perception of myself. Rather than viewing myself as a unique creation of God, someone who is valuable enough to bear the image of God, I tend to view myself as a worthless mistake. McDowell goes on to expound on this thought:
“If you see yourself as a failure, you will find some way to fail, no matter how hard you want to succeed.”
Am I a failure? A mistake? Questions like these are questions that we often find ourselves asking. Again, a healthy knowledge of Scripture will provide the answers that we should already know, as believers. Psalm 139:14 tells me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God said to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you…”. We are hand crafted. We are Artisan Humans. My failures, my shortcomings, my limitations; none of these are alarming or surprising to God. He knew these things about me before I ever existed. Astoundingly, I also bear His image. He allowed me to be born as I am (amoral warts and all), knowing the value that would be upon my life as an image-bearer. As a believer, this value is even more greatly increased.
If you are alive and reading this, you can trace your ancestry all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden. How many lives and potential generations of life were ended at the flood? How many killed in wars and disasters before they ever had the chance to bring life into the world? Yet you are here. Not to go into full detail with the Budgies and the Bumbles - but what are the odds of you being here? There were between 40 million to 1.2 billion other potential lives and people in that moment you were conceived, but the world got you. Same for your parents, and the four grandparents necessary and so on backwards into that remarkably unlikely family tree that actually is. Trace that line and be blown away that you are here, against all the odds. You are no accident - you were meant to be.
People often ask the questions: Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Sometimes in the darkest moments of our lives, Christians even ask such questions. The catechisms of old have clearly answered the question, What is the chief end of man? “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” You are here on purpose and for purpose.
The reality of the situation is that God has not created me for ascetic purposes; to hate myself and
mourn my existence. The reality is that my existence is greatly valued by God. In those darker moments when I feel that I have no value, worth or purpose I need to tell myself what is true.
It is the responsibility and privilege of every believer to rest in the promises of Scripture and to enjoy the enduring presence of our Creator and Redeemer in every season of life. Our circumstances are changing. God’s promises are not. Rest in that reality.
Matt Green is Pastor of Blurton Baptist Church in Stoke-on-Trent. Matt was born and raised in the USA. Having trusted Christ at 19 years of age, he followed God's leading to train for ministry in Bible College, and was able to fulfil a summer-long internship in the UK. God eventually led Matt, his wife and two children back to the UK to serve full-time. They have now lived and served in the UK for eight years. Matt loves expository preaching/teaching, evangelism and discipleship. His favourite hobby is basketball.