Question of the Week: Whence Self Worth?

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By User:Factoryjoe (Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On 3/12/2018, the Mentionables received this question from John D. 

Where does Self Worth come from?

Thank you for the question John. Here are the answers from the team:

This answer is from Mentionables Network Member Caleb Johnston for the answer from Joel Furches , Nick Peters, and Marc Lambert scroll below.

Self worth is recognized in simple terms as your feelings about yourself. Self worth is often dictated by biochemical well being, societal norms or trends, and by responses and reactions of those closest to us. However, none of these things actually bring any truth to self worth. So let’s consider 2 views for a moment. The first is an atheistic approach. Self worth would be built on the above features I mentioned however in the end the feelings associated with it would be an illusion that did not bestow any actual value on the individual. After all, from this perspective we are mere accidents of cosmic chance. Now with that said you can still find more superficial value in the improbability of your existence...but again this is merely another psychological factor that supports an illusionary belief. On the other hand looking at the Christian worldview we have a very different take. Christianity would still support that an individual sense of self worth could be falsely built based on the above factors, however, under the surface feelings ever individual does have a God given immeasurable self worth that is bestowed by the creator Himself. Being made “in His image” brings a value to human life that is transcendent of feelings. Your personal sense of self worth may be off but it doesn’t negate your actual self worth in anyway. 

We all act in a way that says we find self worth important despite the fact that only some worldviews actually offer an explanation for having an objective reason to support self worth of individuals or the human race. Thus self worth in the individual sense is a product of your environment and circumstances but from a Christian perspective there is a deeper underlying root  value that has been given to everyone by their creator. This is not something that can be stolen or taken away by ones circumstances. All human life has value thanks to a creator that actively loves and cares for his creation. 

This is the answer from Mentionables Team Member Joel Furches for the answer from Nick Peters, and Marc Lambert scroll below.

For the purposes of Apologetics, a distinction should be made between human worth and self-worth.

The subject of Human Worth is of great concern Apologetically, because if humans have inherent worth, then it follows that there is some grounding for that worth exterior to the material universe. An animated coalition of atoms has nothing intrinsic that assigns it worth. If everyone can agree that humans have worth, this points to a transcendent standard which can only be grounded in a Creator.

Self-worth, on the other hand, is simply a recognition of one’s personal worth, and is a feature of humanity which is more extensively explored in the realm of psychology.

But just like the question of what gives worth to humans as a species, the question of what gives someone their personal worth relies on what grounds “worth.”

For individuals considering their personal worth, it is universally tied to that in which they find their identity. So, for instance, an athletic person might define himself by his athleticism, an artist might define herself by her art, and a parent might find personal definition in parenting.

Whether correctly or incorrectly, humans have the need to ground worth in identity, and a person’s chosen identity is arbitrary to their interests and circumstances.

The great disadvantage of finding worth in identity is that circumstances change. Athletes age and lose physical prowess, artists decline in inspiration or creative ability and children eventually grow up and leave their parents.

This is the mechanism that tends to drive the so-called “midlife crisis.” As a person’s youth begins to gradually recede, most of the things they identified with - looks, physical prowess and expectations of early accomplishments - begin to go away. The person undergoes a rapid identity shift, and so will frequently have to attach their worth to something else.

Of course, if human worth finds its grounding in God – the Creator – then if a person grounds their personal worth in their identity as a creation of a personal God, this identity cannot be shaken by time or circumstance.

This very process is keenly expressed in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which is an eloquent treatise on this exact process. The writer begins with a frustrated attempt to ground his identity in personal accomplishments – all of which fail to satisfy. The writer then goes on to express how one’s entire identity seems to be ravaged through age. The ultimate conclusion of the author is the same as concluded above: one must ground one’s identity in being a creation of God, which is the only origin in which one may find true and immutable self-worth.

This is a very appropriate observation for the modern era, because the subject of identity has become the byword of the day. Never has identity been more discussed and debated. It seems as if the rising trend is that a person not only privately finds an identity and grounding, but they also want their personal identity to be publically recognized, respected and celebrated, so that their self-worth is being imposed on others, and their self-regard is in some way tied to public opinion.

Any psychologist can attest that when a person’s self worth hangs on what everyone else thinks and says, it is perhaps the most unhealthy of attitudes to adopt. And, again, if a person’s worth hangs on their Creator, then public opinion means nothing: merely the opinion of the One who gives worth to begin with.

This is the answer from Mentionables Team Member Nick Peters for the answer from Marc Lambert scroll below.

Hi, John. Thanks for the question!

This question is very special to me. You see, I am happily married to a woman who is a suicide survivor. The pain that such a thing leaves behind is intense and part of that is a lack of self-worth. One thinks they have nothing to contribute. Also, my wife and I both have Aspergers so we are often the type of people that are shunned by the world.

Let's start then by saying where our self-worth does NOT come from.

It does not come from what you do. Your job can give you some purpose in life, but it does not define you. If your job disappeared, your value as a human being would not change. This treats human beings as objects only good by what they contribute to society.

It does not come from relationships per se. You are not special because a certain person loves you. Your value is not determined by another human being.

It does not come from sex. This is another great myth of our age believed by men and women. Men believe often that if they have sex with the girl, well they are the man then. Women believe that they are no one many times unless they have a man who loves them and that must mean sex. Not there also.

Let's also keep in mind nothing is wrong with these things. You should seek to contribute to society. You should seek to have good relationships. If you are married, you should be having sex with your spouse and if you are single and want sex with a spouse, that is not a bad thing.

Your self-worth comes because as 1 John says, we love because He first loved us. Here's something else. God doesn't love you because you are so good and awesome. You're not. God loves you because He is so good and awesome. That love in turn makes you something good and awesome the more you lean on that. God transforms you into the image of His Son more and more by your loving Him.

A good read on this is a book called Christ-Esteem. We speak of self-esteem so much as if it's something in us our goodness comes from. It's not. All goodness we have is because God Himself is good first and your soul is restless until it finds its place in Him.

Hope this helps!

This is the answer from Network Member Marc Lambert

The dictionary that I consulted defines "self worth" as, "the sense of one's own value or worth as a person; self-esteem; self-respect." One thing that stands out to e about that is the focus on "self" ... it is your perception of your self. It is referring to the personal way in which you view yourself. What YOU think about your own worth. While it is good to understand that as a human being you do objectively have an inherent worth grounded in your Creator that can never be taken from you or diminished by anything. But you also have a self perception.

The others here have given fantastic answers, and I don't want to just echo what they said. I will, however, add a thought to consider.

Apart from God, on what basis do we have any reason to think very highly of ourselves at all? I'm not trying to be depressing, but the fact is that if we are honest with ourselves, we're not something to be all that excited about. Now, this is brought about by sin and the state of fallenness that mankind finds itself in. And while it is true that we all do some good stuff and we all have some pretty cool things about us that we can point to, the whole reason we need a savior in the first place is because of our own sinfulness. Good Friday is coming up soon, and it is "good" because - among other things - it outs us for who we really are. Jesus didn't come to save perfect people. He came to save us.

Not trying to be a downer. It's just the state of affairs we find ourselves in. And we all inherently know this. Go through the Ten Commandments as a character assessment test, and how do you do? If we could record your thoughts for 24 hours and then share with all your friends and loved ones in the room ... would you want to be in that room? No. None of us would.

This is one of the major factors of why we seek for something to give us a better perception of our worth. Why we want someone or something - anything - that will tell us that we really do matter. That we really do have worth and value.

And the other guys have done a great job explaining why only God can provide what we seek. One sentence in particular jumped out at me from Joel's answer, "[W]hen a person’s self worth hangs on what everyone else thinks and says, it is perhaps the most unhealthy of attitudes to adopt."

That's not only true for you as you seek self-wroth, but it is also unhealthy for those to whom you look to fill that need. As a pastor, I often have to deal not only with the more academic answers, but the very real personal, and often hurtful, experiences that people go through. And while anecdotal, it seems to me that there is a lot of damage done out there because as we seek to find a reason to view ourselves better, we lay that burden on other people. Other people who are just as flawed and fallen and sinful as we are.

And when we base our self-worth on others, inevitably one of two things will happen: (1) They will disappoint us, which then reflects back on us and tears down our self-image. Like the person who bases their self-worth on the social relationships they have. They belong to a certain group or club or business or find validation in their spouse or their children. When those relationships fail to live up to the high standard we place on them, in their fall, they will bring us down with them. Or - and more tragically - (2) we will crush them under the weight of our expectations. This one seems most obvious in the cases of spouses or children. When you put your worth as a person on the shoulders of those who love you, they will many times destroy themselves emotionally, socially, and psychologically under the weight of that burden - a burden they can never bear, but will continue to try out of love for you.

Only God is able to bear this burden. Only He will never disappoint in His love for you. Only He can provide the answer we seek. As creator only He can answer the question about our inherent worth found in our very existence. As redeemer, only He can be trusted to take the broken parts of our lives and declare them to be valuable.