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Unworthy, but not Worthless

Unworthy, but not Worthless

By Dale Fincher

Because of sin, we became worms?

In a recent publication that arrived in our mail, I read about the modern worship experience in church.  And one of the worship leaders interviewed said that the purpose of worship is to remember that we are worms before God.

That we are worms.

Is that the story?

Our Christian vocabulary has confused two very important words and made them one.

Unworthy.  Worthless.

These do not mean the same thing.  But when we attach them to each other, we end up talking and believing that our unworthiness means our worthlessness.

A teen told me how worthless he felt.  ”I’m a sinner,” he said.  And to be a sinner meant to be worthless.  He tied the two together, thinking that a wrong choice led to a valueless soul.

“No,” I replied, “you are not worthless.  Being a sinner cannot ever make you worthless.”

What this teen heard most of his church-life is that being a sinner makes you unworthy of friendship with God, unworthy of inheriting God’s promises of peace and joy and life everlasting.  This is true.  But maybe his own worship leader shared from the stage that we are but worms.  Unworthy meant worthless.

“Unworthy” is failing to live up to requirements.  If you cheat your employer, you do not deserve a raise.  If you fail to study for a test, you do not deserve a high grade.  If you forget your child’s birthday, you do not deserve a happy child pretending it didn’t happen.

You are unworthy of reward when you fail to do what is reward-worthy.  You cannot merit the winning title of the Boston Marathon if you come in last.  You do not deserve God to reward you when, through sin, you’ve done nothing to deserve that reward.

That is what it means to be unworthy.  Your merits fall short.  You are unworthy to be honored (Rom 4:4).

To be worthless, however, is quite different. While being unworthy is about our merits, being worthless is about our value. If you lost the Boston Marathon, you are as full of value as the person who won. If you forgot your child’s birthday, you are no less valuable than the parent who remembered weeks in advance and rented an elephant for the occasion.

The distance between unworthy merit and worthless value is the distance between east and west.

Jesus did not come for the worthless. He came for the unworthy.

Jesus came for those who are valuable. His coming did not make us valuable.

Jesus’s forgiveness does not makes us suddenly valuable, as if a worm collection was suddenly wanted.  No, Jesus forgiveness make us deserving the reward of knowing God. His forgiveness pulled the classic car from the abandoned garage to rev the engine and slap on fresh whitewalls. This is what the Scripture means by “grace.” His forgiveness reminds us, again and again, that we are valuable, though our merits are short.

You are human after all. Humans cannot give themselves value. Humans were made valuable from the start, without our consultation, whether we like it or not (Gen. 1:27).  A popular Christian writer once responded negatively at me for this. He believed that Jesus made us valuable on the Cross.  He said we’re concerned about value today because we’re too concerned with economics.

What he overlooked is that the Scripture affirms our value long before it recognizes our merits. Creation came before the Cross. We were made valuable in Eden before any temptation to think otherwise. And God makes a plan to rescue us even before the Law and Sacrifices.

I think that writer forgot the old Sunday School phrase, “I know I’m somebody, cause God don’t make no junk.” Unworthy, for him, became worthlessness.

Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” Jesus himself makes an economic metaphor on our value (Mark 8:36).  Our value is worth more than all our merits, worth more than all the world.

Does God then reach down to us because we’ve done good deeds, obligating God to pay attention to us? No. We cannot obligate God to us through anything we do. Does God reach down to us because he loves the valuable humans he has made, obligating himself to his creation? Absolutely.

Let me say it again, though it may sound unusual to some ears: We can never obligate God to save us. But he obligated himself to save his valuable creation.

We are unworthy, but not worthless. We are worthwhile and loved, no matter what we do (Rom. 5:8). God loves the valuable and teaches us how to see one another beyond what we deserve. See that homeless man or that homeowner, that divorced man or that promiscuous woman, that prideful pastor or that addicted teen?  Their deeds may be unworthy of your attention, but they are valuable enough to love, unworthy but not worthless.  They hold God’s image too.


*Dale Fincher is an outspoken introvert, apologist, and advocate for gender-equality. He and his wife, Jonalyn, co-founded Soulation seven years ago to help people be appropriately human. He is also the co-author of Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk, (which is available for free this week on Amazon.com.)  In his downtime, he enjoys murmurings of a fly-fishing river. He makes his home with his wife and toddler son in an aspen forest outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

I recommend Dale’s article: Men are Superior?  There are some unique insights here.


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Posted April 27th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Christian Living

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

5 comments on “Unworthy, but not Worthless

  1. Deborah says:

    I love Dale and Jonalyn’s work and agree that we are not worthless, an easy misreading of the following scripture, but scripture does call the people of God (assuming Jacob refers to this) worms:

    Isaiah 41:14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,
    little Israel, do not fear,
    for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

    I think it is a plea to humility. In light of the verse that follows where we/Israel become a double-edged threshing sledge (early forms of this were often wood planks embedded w/ *precious* stones, utilitarian and beautiful), it is not that we are valueless or incapable but that we are worthy (precious) and capable because of His grace, and the grace we know apart from relationship with Him is miniscule compared to that available in Him.

    That said, I’m totally against misusing the verse.

    My 2,
    deb

  2. Marg says:

    At a time when David was feeling desolated and overwhelmed, he (prophetically) called himself a worm:

    “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.” Psalm 22:6.

    But in Psalm 139, a more cheerful and optimistic David writes:

    “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14

    The first few verses of Psalm 139 show that David knew his worth as a person made by God and known by God.

    I guess with just about everything in our faith and theology, it’s finding the balance.

  3. Deborah says:

    You got it, Marg.

  4. […] God does not want us to hold back and be timid. He does not want us to hide from his presence because of fear or shame or feelings of unworthyness (Gen 3:8-10). God wants us to come to him openly and honestly, assured of our salvation and confident in our relationship with him. […]

  5. […] That’s actually what we mean most of the time when we say that we are unworthy. I will speak for myself, but I am sure I am not the only one. Some may say these are semantics, but are they? To be unworthy comes down to what someone deserves based on their own goodness or merit. According to Webster, worth on the other hand is all about value regardless of one’s merit. So to be “worthless” would mean being of no use, importance, or effect. Do you see the difference? Can you be one without the other? What does it look like to be unworthy without being worthless? […]

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