The Cross Deals With Our… Worth
by Jay Parsons
The Cross Deals With Our Worth
1. The Cross Deals With Our... Worth
he 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem” “The Little Book of Confidence” “Love Yourself, Heal Your Life” Go into any bookshop (if they still exist), and go to the self-help section and there will be loads of books with titles like this. Our education system is currently big on trying to deal with low self-esteem, and is working hard to encourage children and young people to think positively about themselves. Many of us feel we are pretty rubbish at everything, and even the things we can do, clearly aren’t as good as someone else does it. We compare our looks, our wealth, our talent, our relationships and our character with others, and we realise we can’t match up. Of course, it is genuinely true that there is always someone better than me. There is always someone else more beautiful, richer, more intelligent, and more talented than me. There is always someone with a more attractive wife or husband and who has better behaved children than me – and (just to pile it on) is a nicer person than me too. Or thinking as a Christian, there is always someone more godly, more prayerful, more servant hearted, more gifted than me. To deny this is foolish. But we have a habit of always judging our own worth by comparison, and when we do that we just feel worthless. That worthlessness can often lead to ugly qualities in us – bitterness, envy and hatred (which make us feel even worse about ourselves). These emotions are then in turn expressed in serious forms. Perhaps in anger and violence towards others. Or perhaps by lurching from one relationship to another in a desperate seeking of love and affirmation. Increasingly too, we are seeing self-harm, issues with body image, eating disorders in both young and old alike. What is the answer to this?
Recently, one of my kids was taught in a PHSE lesson at school, that they should spend time at the end of the day picturing the things that happened to them like bubbles, then pop the negative ones and let the positive ones float around. (This was floated (pun intended) as Mindfulness, but is actually very Zen Buddhist in philosophy so we asked that the kids not take part in this activity.) This method would fit with the general answer the self-esteem books give. It’s fairly simple and at first glance seems like it will work. Keep the positive stuff coming in, and kick the negative stuff (and people) out the door. It sounds good, and it sounds like it will work, but is it the answer? I don’t think so.
Of course, there are times when others are simply mean, and I should not accept what they say. And it is good to give positive encouragement to others. But what happens if someone comes along and challenges me with something that is negative but is true about what I am really like? Is it really the right approach when someone points out a genuine flaw, or bad thing I have done, that I must simply pop that thought? Is it right to internally shout it down and declare myself to be a good person, a beautiful person, no matter what the evidence to the contrary? And what happens when I reject that thought and the person who says it? Two things. First, I inevitably end up with an inflated view of myself. My sense of worth becomes puffed-up (and falsely so), as I end up pretending to myself that I am without flaw. I end up in denial about my sins and wrongdoing, and prefer to speak instead of ‘mistakes’. Second, there is a strong likelihood I begin to despise others. At the same time as my sense of worth is inflated, my view of the worth of the other person is denigrated. I compare myself to them and their negativity, and I feel superior in comparison. Anyone who challenges me is simply not worth my time and so I ditch them from my life. The person with high self-esteem can easily become self-involved and arrogant, out of touch with what they are really like.
The cross takes us in a different direction. First, the bad news is that there is no pretending with Jesus. He sees the worst of us, the depths of our hearts, seeing even more than we see of ourselves. If we saw what he sees, we would realise we are far worse than we know. We can see ourselves, like Paul does, as the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1v15). We can say with the Psalmist, I am a worm and not a man (Psalm 22v5) This sounds like bad news, but this means that we can be completely honest about our shortcomings, our mistakes, and our grievous sins and rebellious hearts. The world hates people talking like that, and may well tell us to not be so hard on ourselves, to try and see the positive, and that we are ‘good people’ really. It thinks that if we declare ourselves to be sinners, then we will have low self-esteem. But there is no need to pretend with Jesus. We can be totally honest about the condition of our hearts and lives.
However, the cross means that at the very same time, the Christian person is not crushed with low self-esteem, as the world might have us believe. We aren’t crushed because through the cross, we know that we are loved beyond what we can imagine. We are shown to be immensely precious to God, valued and treasured by him despite our true nature. Romans 5v7-8 says this: 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We are great sinners, yet he loves us and he proves it through the cross. This gives a tremendous sense of worth.
No other religion or philosophy or secular worldview, no self-help book or positive thinking method gives us such a realistic view of ourselves and our sense of worth. Only the cross can on the one hand take us so low by being so honest about our evil condition, yet at the same time lift us so high as we realise that we are the treasured children of the King of Kings. The cross deals with our worth.