I have a small but functional collection of hand tools on the work bench in my basement. The tool I most prize is probably my cordless drill. It’s the one that gets used all the time. Its many nicks and scuffs tell the stories of numerous projects throughout the years.
I have other tools, too—a stripped pliers, an old copper-pipe cutter, a worn out flat-head screwdriver, a dull saw—but these are not as prominent in my collection. They were useful at one time, and certainly hold some potential for use (or else I’d throw them away), but they’re not…well, they just aren’t my prized multi-functional, time-saving cordless drill/driver.
Many of us think that God looks at us the same way that I look at the tools on my workbench. We assume he has a special place for the “superstars” who have the greatest potential and who make the greatest contributions to the Kingdom of God. At the same time, we assume that he puts up with the rest of us, keeping us around even though we don’t contribute much. While this assumption is common in today’s world, the teaching of Scripture gives us a completely different picture.
The Scriptures teach that every person has value and meaning. What we contribute to God or to others has no bearing on how God views our worth. I base this claim on two sources—the Bible itself and Luther’s Small Catechism, which is a summary of the Bible’s teaching. Let me first talk about the Bible.
The consistent message of the Bible on this topic is that God loves you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). Because he has created you, he has invested you with meaning and worth apart from what you do. Passages as familiar as John 3:16, and others less well-known (Psalm 103:17; Isaiah 54:10; 1 Corinthians 1:4–9; 2 Timothy 1:9), all support this claim. Take, as another example, Deuteronomy 7:7–8, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” In short, God loves you not because of you, but because of him. He delights in you and is for you because that’s the kind of Creator and Savior that he is.
A second source that supports this claim is Luther’s Small Catechism. The first sentences in this book ask the question, “What are God’s thoughts about you?” This goes to the heart of the issue, doesn’t it? The answer: “God’s thoughts about me are thoughts of love and blessing.” So simple; so penetrating; so encouraging. And then, with this knowledge, the Catechism invites us into a study of God’s Word.
Why do we have such a hard time understanding and accepting this simple truth—that “God’s thoughts about me are thoughts of love and blessing”? There are many reasons, I suppose, but certainly prominent among them is the fact that we have bought into the lie that our value is determined by our usefulness. We think that if we’re gifted at something, or if people look to us for advice, or if people think highly of us, or think we’re smart, or pretty, or athletic, or techy, or influential, that this means we have greater value than others. At the same time we think that if we are lacking in any of these qualities, then we must be of lesser worth. We often swing between these poles—sometimes on a daily basis!
The Catechism teaches (and the Bible confirms) that all human life is God-given and therefore God-infused with value and meaning. As Psalm 100:3 says, “It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Despite what our culture assumes, it’s important for us to remember that no one exists apart from the mind, hand, provision, and graciousness of God. Every discussion of the question of the value and worth of a person should start first with God and his thoughts. God has no varsity and junior-varsity teams. He has no upper-, middle-, and lower-class Christians. He makes no distinction between prized tools and worn-out or useless tools. In the mystery of his abundant love and grace, God delights in each life he has created, no matter what stage and phase of life it is in, and regardless of what that person is able to contribute to his/her existence.
If we ever doubt God’s love for us, or if we ever wonder how it is that he can think “thoughts of love and blessing” for someone who is so useless and broken, we ought to lift our eyes to Jesus on the cross and hear him say, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). We who are created by God in his image are also given the “right to become children of God” as we “receive him [and] believe in his name” (John 1:12).
The Bible says that value in a human person is not earned but given (Genesis 1:31; Psalm 8; Ephesians 2:8-9). You are loved and valued by God. This is proven by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for you—to destroy death and the grave and to unite you with him now and forever.
Thoughts of love and blessing indeed!
Brad Pribbenow, Ph.D, is Associate Dean of Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, MN and serves as worship director for a Lutheran Brethren church plant in Battle Lake, MN.