The Problem of Intrinsic Worth

The other day I came to a frightening realization: in myself, I am worth nothing. If all I am is the result of billions of years of time times space times chance, then what, if any, kind of intrinsic worth can be assigned to me? Does any person honestly believe they are of the same worth as a goldfish? Why not? Are not man and fish both the result of natural selection and blind chance leading to an undetermined end, except the death of the universe when it finally runs out of usable energy (via the Second Law of Thermodynamics) and all life dies? In the cosmic scheme, what worth is there to our vaporous lives? How can one say there is no reason to the cosmic scheme of things, but that he himself does possess purpose? How can he be so arrogant? Where does my worth come from if I can truly say I am of more worth than a fish?

Is it because of my intellect I have worth? No. If this was the standard, then those of mental handicap would be excluded. Children would be left out as well, including the billions throughout history who never had any formal education. If intellect was the standard, then at what point does a person cross the line of worth? When does a man become more of worth. What about the philosopher and the doctor? They have different intellectual prowess, but could one really be considered more valuable than the other? Intellect is useless in determining worth.

Is it because of my good deeds? Certainly not. If I owned a scale which could measure my good deeds in relation to my bad, the scale would be tipped over the negative side. There would exist no contest. You might say, “But, certainly, I am a good person.” This statement demonstrates a person’s own destructive pride and adds another score to the bad works scale. Any person in their most honest moment would have to admit their own self-centered actions have taken predominance over any thought towards others. Not to mention indifference towards the suffering if not outright malicious behavior towards others in order for a person’s own self to prosper.

Is it physical attractiveness? Of course not. It is silly to even seriously promote such a world view. Even if this standard was true, then the worth would fluctuate incredibly so that no person could take it seriously or deem it reliable. A person on the night of a formal will certainly not uphold the same level of attractiveness after an all-night studying session, so a person’s worth is unsteady. It is sad to see many people’s standard of worth is based upon this ridiculous notion, whether they openly admit such or not.

Is it power? Then the same problem arises as intellect. The large majority of humans to never hold any power will go without worth. You may say, “Well, in my intellect and power, I have worth. Too bad for the rest of mankind.” What happens when your power fades or is ripped from your hands? Do you think your prestige will follow you? What is the prestige of the President to terrorists? What is the worth of a CEO in one company to the CEO in a competing company? Power and prestige is relative to the audience. Then what happens when the audience turns against you? When the revolutionaries reject your kingship and decide to bring you down with your kingdom? Power is passed on. You are quickly forgotten within a time. You are no longer relevant. You become like those whom you said had less worth. The servant and the master both end up in the grave.

Or you may say, “Well, I reject all of these standards, but I still think I am worth something. It is a properly basic belief. Like the reality of the external world, or the presence of other minds than my own. It cannot be proven. It just is.” You make the mistake of believing worth can be self-determined. This idea makes no sense. Does gold approach a banker (if it had such abilities) and say, “I am worth much”? No, rather it is the banker who declares the gold to be of worth. The same is said for any good or service traded or monetized. The worth of the good or service is declared externally of the object of worth. Then what can declare man intrinsically valuable?

Can the universe declare man valuable? From television and pop culture this notion is promoted. People pretend everything has a reason, a plan, and that something is guiding all (just not God, because that implies moral duties, which are old-fashioned). Therefore, the universe wants man to do well. The cosmic sum of inanimate matter and time and space and energy somehow gives a cosmic rip about man. No, it is ludicrous to suggest such a thing.

Can men declare one another valuable? Certainly, but then again, another man can declare the same man invaluable. What makes the first man’s opinion about certain person of higher importance than the second man’s opinion? What basis is there? The basis is certainly not in any of the false grounds discussed earlier. Even if you managed to get the whole world to believe you have worth, that worth is relative. As long as you make them happy, you have worth. What happens when this pleasure ceases? Then you are quickly turned on and overthrown. Even if you managed to keep their support throughout your short life, then your worth is not really intrinsic worth, because it is based upon what you can do for them. Your worth is based on your actions and not upon you being a human being.

All that remains is worth from a transcendent Creator. A Maximally Great Being whom is the standard of goodness and truth in Himself. He is all-knowing, all good, completely glorious, all powerful, Creator of both the universe and the beings within it, and the Declarer of things which are of worth and which are not. Without God, then man’s sums is its end. Namely, mankind is the result of accident, chance, and happenstance. Man is composed of just jealous genes trying to survive in a pitiless and indifferent world. Intrinsic worth becomes illusory.

I do not present this line of reasoning as an argument for God’s existence. For it very well could be the case humans are of no intrinsic worth, but I do not believe many casual secularists are willing to believe so. Either they must admit God exists and respond accordingly, or believe what I have laid out as the implications of a world without God, which is essentially nihilism.

Rather, I wish to present this line of reasoning as a source of hope for those who do believe in God. Mankind is valuable. Not because we have somehow pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and made ourselves so at the top of the food chain, but because an Almighty God has declared His creation to be of intrinsic worth.

This attitude is exhibited in the Gospel of John. When writing his gospel, John refers to himself constantly as, “…the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). He does not say, “The disciple whom gained responsibility of Jesus’ mother.” Or, “The disciple whom stayed with Jesus at the cross.” He does not even use his own name. When it comes time to define himself, he simply says he is, “…the disciple whom Jesus loved…” which is a worldview, once adopted, shakes the very core of your being and outlines everything else you believe about yourself and the world around you. John’s worth, his acceptance, his entire being is predicated on the fact that he is a disciple admittedly and passionately loved by his Maker and Savior.

For followers of Christ it is an amazing encouragement to know our worth is not in our successes or our failures. Whatever man may call us, whatever the universe throws our way, whatever our intellect, whatever our shame, whatever our standing, whatever our past, whatever we think of ourselves, comfort is found in the fact we are the disciples whom Jesus loves. Based upon the love of God, we have worth. Without Him, we have nothing. With Him, we have all. Hallelujah.

“…but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:24).

One thought on “The Problem of Intrinsic Worth

  1. Beth Brown

    Mason you are a truly deep thinker. You are so right. Only God gives us worth because He loves us. Although I don’t know you well, I would like to get to know you better. I am 71 and still have to strive each day to be what God wants me to be but His love has me up the next day continuing to try. However, it is comforting to know He loves me even when I fail and that His love continues to give me worth.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s