Sunday, 13 December 2009

Batman is Worth it

So here's the classic Batman vs. L'Oreal personal worth conflict: According to Batman's love interest, Rachel, "It's not who you are, but what you do that defines you." According to airbrushed L'Oreal models, you should buy the products they are advertising "Because you're worth it." There doesn't appear to be any requirements for your being "worth it" - simply you being you.

In agreement with L'Oreal, we have the common assertion that everyone is supposed to simply "accept people for who they are." People are inherently valuable, like the old Sunday school object lesson with the $20 bill. In case you missed it, a $20 bill is worth the same amount muddy and ripped and faded as it is worth fresh and crisp and new. People are like money.

Yet society doesn't function this way. Scholarships are awarded based on merit. Trust is earned on merit. Job promotions aren't always given based on merit, but politics are a different subject altogether. We laugh at emo kids for whining that "nobody understands them" and shake our heads disgustedly at self-entitled nut jobs everywhere. And we bite out lips and feel really hypocritical when we catch ourselves feeling entitled.

I think this issue can be somewhat resolved for the human species if we make careful note of one thing. We are talking about two different kinds of value, here. The first kind of value, the inherent dignity and worth of a human being, is a result of God's dignity being bestowed on us. No matter what, we are "worth it", not because we're naturally awesome but because God is "worth it". The second kind of value, the amount we're worth in society, relies on both our integrity and our reputation.

I'd like to point out that a $20 bill, inherently valuable though it may be, is just a scrap of paper and utterly worthless unless put to proper use.

But this idea of bestowed dignity and value brings up another question: Where does God get His dignity and worth from? Again, we find there are the two conflicting opinions.

Opinion A: God is God, and God is good. He doesn't have to do anything. If God saves us or feeds us to the wolves, He is still worthy of our praise and worship. Romans 9:20, 21: But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? This goes back to Moses and the burning bush, where God identifies Himself simply as "I am". Being is enough. This opinion kind of appeals to me. It takes me out of the picture and simplifies things. God is sovereign.

Opinion B: God sent His Son to die for us. He takes care of us. Because of His great love and mercy, He is a God worth serving. This opinion reminds me of the objection, "I want nothing to do with a God who lets people suffer." Though this objection can be dealt with by explaining God's permission of injustice (i.e. free choice - God wants people, not robots), the presupposition of the argument remains intact. Perhaps God, despite being God, does not deserve our adoration. Perhaps He has to earn it. Take the book of Isaiah, for example. How does this God-breathed literature argue that God is worth serving? By recounting all the things God has done for Israel. All the things that God is able to do and the things that He will do. Hosea 13:4 But I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me.

Isaiah 40:10-14 Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of scales?

So which of these views is correct? Or how are these two views reconciled?

I'm not so sure that the first view completely disregards what God does. Would anyone argue that an evil God is still God and therefore worthy of worship? It's just that when God does something "bad", we assume that we don't understand what God's very good reason is for it. Can you be good without doing good? I don't really think so. What God does is a part of Who God is.

And here I could get into a long discussion on whether Good existed and God adheres to the rules of Good, or whether God defines the Good, but perhaps I'll save that for another day. To keep things short, if even God is judged by and identifies Himself by His actions, then maybe it's not such a shallow way for us to look at things, too. What we do is a part of who we are. At any rate, I think Batman got it mostly right. L'Oreal is mainly trying to exploit our narcissistic tendencies.

"'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan. 'And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth. Be content.'" C.S. Lewis


art said...

This is pretty deep thinking. As I consider the $20 bill story I think if I were alone on an iceflow somewhere up north, I would much rather have an old newspaper and matches worth maybe $2.00 than the $20 bill which by itself would be pretty much worthless to me. If I can't DO anything with the $20 bill, it has no value to me. Is suppose I also agree more with the Batman philosophy than the L'Oreal one.

How this relates to God is interesting. Does God get his worth for just being God or is it because of the things he does? If God was a distant God who just created us and set us free and now we are "on our own", would he still be worthy? Would his worthiness degrade over time? I suppose we still ought to be thankful for "life" but is that enough for us to "worship" him?

There is a lot of stuff in this post that could be discussed for a long time.

CavDawg said...

I agree that there remains much to be said on this topic.

Nonetheless, this was an interesting read. What's more, I agree with your conclusion.

Brianna said...

Love this. Thanks! Super well-written and packed with content.

"God doesn't love us for who we are but because of who he is."