24 Questions for Advent: Nine
So how do you measure the worth of one, in wealth or strength or size? - Stephen Schwartz, Through Heaven’s Eyes, The Prince of Egypt
I love this song from the DreamWorks movie The Prince of Egypt, when Jethro gives Moses a lesson in seeing God’s perspective of ourselves. In a world that gives us constant measuring sticks of human worth, based mostly on achievement or outward appearance, Moses is reminded that he is an important part of an epic story of redemption.
Though we may have not been chosen to a task such as Moses’, we are also crucial players in that story. Much like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, we can be blinded by the frustrations and stresses of the details and lost sight of our value.
It is precisely the value of every Imago Dei that Jesus brought to light in a world that treated most people as property. As we look at the how the Gospel has changed the world over the centuries since, one could argue that there has been a “gradual arc toward justice” toward placing greater and greater value upon human worth. It has become universally accepted (though not consistently practiced) that all people should be given equal dignity and rights, an idea that would have been baffling in prior times. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in December of 1948 as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.
Much like the U.S. Constitution, the UDHR sets forth ideals that we have a long way to go to achieve. But it constitutes a marker that simply did not exist before. At least now, we have generally agreed upon standards of the treatment of humans that can, and have been, a tool for holding nations accountable.
Yet we struggle every day to appreciate the value of ourselves as part of God’s great story. We get lost in the crowds, in what is currently trending or exciting or hip, and forget the immeasurable worth of each & every individual. Jesus said it best:
You, beloved, are worth so much more than a whole flock of sparrows.
God knows everything about you, even the number of hairs on your head.
So do not fear.
Matthew 10:30-31, The Voice
We have a hard time experiencing this in the day to day. Could it be that we simply find it hard to believe? Can we not remind one another of the incredible value we are to God? Of the important part each of us have in His work? Of how wonderfully unique we are?
In the Pixar movie The Incredibles, Helen (Mrs. Incredible) says to her discouraged son, “Everyone is special, Dash”. Dash retorts back to her, “Which is another way of saying that no one is.” I recall feeling that way when I was little. By embracing the value of every individual (which we should), we are often left with the feeling that it’s not OK to excel, stand apart, be special. The danger of course in such striving (which we do) is that we create more measuring sticks to compare each other. If someone wins, another must lose. If someone is special, then others are not. But that misses the key point of God’s story.
Through Heaven’s eyes, our being “special” has to do with the unique part we play in the story. It has nothing to do with comparisons to others; they have their own part to play. It does have to do with each and every person being, in essence, irreplaceable and valuable. We all have abilities that make us special; they are just different in each one of us. This is not to say that competition or achievement are bad things. It is to say that they only show pieces of the puzzle. The challenge lies with humanity learning to see the value in not only achievement, but in personhood. In God’s perspective, much of what we deem valuable is likely to get flipped on its head in eternity. Note Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians:
On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
I Corinthians 12:22-26, RSV
Let’s "compete" in giving honor to one another, who each have an indispensable part to play.