A long time ago I had a friend who had been the director of the Salvation Army in a large Midwestern city. She had a theology degree and had received a lot of awards for her innovation in helping the homeless population as well as the single moms of her city.
Then suddenly, she came down with a life-threatening illness at age 38. This illness not only almost took her life but left her “bed-ridden” for the subsequent twelve months.
This lady, whom I will call Tammy, told me what an experience it was, during that year, to reach a point that she could accept the fact that God loves her … when she was doing nothing. She always felt that God loved her when she was in charge of so many important tasks, but when she laid in bed all day, pooping in a bed pan, with people having to wait on her, she suddenly felt that pleasure from God dissipating and vanishing. Even though she said that she knew better, that she knew that the Christian gospel is all about God given us full valuation—not based on what we do—but simply by assigning Christ’s perfection on to us. However, it was very difficult to sense that pleasure when she was doing nothing.
I’m going to make a statement that most people will disagree with, however, I stand by it. Most of us, if not all, get our sense of value based on the following attributes; age (youth being better), appearance (being good looking), feeling good physically, having money, having accomplishments, and having a likable personality. maybe I missed one or two. It is the same in high school as when you are 70. Okay, now for the Christian, they will turn up their noses and shake their heads at such nonsense, as they are on their way to the beauty shop or making a bank deposit. However, it is true. None of us get out of that sense of self-wroth. It is also true, like Tammy alluded to, that the Christian gospel is unique in that it removes, in principle, that tension because, all people are covered by the perfection of Christ and all have infinite value. There is no rich, poor, ugly, handsome, successful, or failures in that system. We are all the same. But none of us live that way. If a handsome, young, wealthy, person with a good personality walks into a church, it is highly likely they, if willing, will immediately be recruited for leadership positions, while the quiet, not so successful person will not. That’s just the way we live, not the way it should be. We also feel good about ourselves, based on these attributes, not based on the gospel.
Now for the atheist, I don’t have much to offer. They must live by this valuation system of looks, money, and accomplishments. But even that system is built on pixie dust and fades away as atheism must end, as I said before, in nihilism. No matter how big of tombstone you leave, nature will eventually erase it.
I know that some forms of Hinduism deal with this through the act of reincarnation. Where you are born into a certain status based on successes in previous lives. But that opens the door for incredible racism as exhibited in the caste system.
I know that different Muslims have a different take on this process, but from the ones I’ve spoken to, they seem to sense their value, in God’s eyes, being based on fulfilling the five basic pillars of Islam.
So, when someone is in my situation, full of life, healthy and busy, and then is struck down in a flash, where they no longer feel good, their capacity to accomplish anything is grossly compromised, where they see the draining of their financial resources because of their illness, and even start to look hideous, suddenly the carpet of valuation is pulled from beneath them. It is very difficult to feel value in this world that bases human value on these other things. I often ask myself, and God, is there any reason for me to get out of bed this morning? Is there any reason for me to go on living and taking up space on a planet where I can give nothing back? Those are haunting questions.
But it is at this juncture that the gospel must either be embraced for what it is, or honestly rejected because you just can’t accept that type of “passive” valuation. But if you cannot feel God’s pleasure when you are hurting and helpless, can you really know God’s pleasure when you are at the height of success? I think not.
This is one of the most difficult parts of this journey with the voices of “you are worthless” haunting me from the left and the right. It is a real spiritual battle that you must engage in, moment by moment. Yet, like Tammy also concluded, it is better to have borne this battle than like the most who are never forced to either accept the gospel for what’s it worth, or just go on pretending that your value comes from the gospel when it really comes from those other things.