What makes us valuable / significant / worthwhile? This was the question asked at the start of the sermon tonight at church. My thoughts immediately jumped to Oprah, who claims that worthiness is our birthright. In a world that says you’re worthwhile because of what you do (accumulate, succeed in, create, achieve, etc.) she’s bringing a different message. I’ve done some thinking about Oprah in my time and this statement is a thought-provoking one.
There’s something that sounds good about this. There’s a sense in which humans, by their very humanness are special. Though the church fathers argued for ‘natural rights’, the concept was pretty much the same. Christians like William Wilberforce fought for legislation upholding the sanctity of human life and well-being. Indeed, in Genesis, the uniqueness of humanity is clear. (Gen 1:26-30, 2:7, 15-24) Humanity is made in the very image of God and with that comes special value. In that sense, you could say that each person is born glorious in some way, for each person is an image of God.
However, it is important to see where this worth comes from. It is not something that that person owns. It is not because of who they are that they have this special value. Rather, it comes from who they reflect. It is God and being in his image that makes them valuable. Human life and human value can not be separated from its creator. Humans are valuable because God has created them in his image. This is where Oprah makes her mistake. Because we are made in God’s image, we are valuable, but this is not our birthright – it is a gift from the God of grace.
Our world is fallen, and we are broken images of God in it. That which gives us our greatest glory is marred. We, God’s image, are hopelessly tarnished by sin. The great message of the sermon tonight though, was that it was never our own goodness for which God loved us. And it is not for our own achievement that God loves us now. Rather, it is because he is love, not that we are lovely. Our significance has always come from him. Only he can be its source. Praise be to the God of grace!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.