February 11th, 2013 at 8:23 pm
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Genesis 2:7 (NIV)
The chemicals that make up your body are worth something. Don’t get excited – the basic elements which God fashioned from the dust of the earth to make you won’t fund your retirement. Apparently the raw chemicals in your body are worth about $1.00. Before you get too depressed about this factoid, let’s examine your value another way.
Consider a famous painting like the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci. At most, the artist used an inexpensive amount of paint. But because that curious smile was brushed by the hand of da Vinci, the paints became worthy of a secure display in the Louvre. While countless other brushstrokes on canvas exist as motel art, the work of a master is valued beyond measure.
Starting with just a chunk of stone Michelangelo sculpted “David.” With simple pen, ink and paper, Shakespeare scripted the timeless love story “Romeo & Juliet.” The everyday invaluable objects became treasures when fashioned by the hand of those we recognize as creative genius.
So it is with people. What Creator God has formed from dust and filled with life is of greater value than any work of art. Jesus declared the value of humankind to His hearers 2,000 years ago and us today with these words:
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Jesus in Luke 12:6-7 (NIV)
The problem is we have learned to value human beings differently than God does.
On the playground, a child’s sense of self-worth hangs upon how quickly he is picked when the teams are chosen for kickball. His value is determined by the judgment of others. Being chosen last is almost a self-esteem death-blow.
This “value education” does not stop on the playground. It moves to the athletic field where a Peyton Manning earns $42.5 million per year, making him only the tenth highest paid athlete in the world. At the top of the list is a boxer, Floyd Mayweather, who has earned $85 million in a year. Celebrities annually earn in the nine-figure mark (you read that right). Super-celebs have set the bar high. Oprah earns $165 million dollars a year.
In light of celebrity value, Forbes 500 company CEOs seem relatively affordable at an average annual compensation of $10.5 million dollars. And, regardless of your regard for them, United States congress members are comparatively cheap at $174,000 in base salary, and they haven’t had a raise since 2009.
Seriously, let’s think about this in real-life terms. Remember, the national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Working all year for 40 hours a week, an employee earns only $15,080. That is an impoverished living, if not an impossible one. The U.S. census data puts the median household income at less than $50,000 per year, emphasizing the range between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
Putting it in a global perspective, 80 percent of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day. That means over six billion people were valued at $3,650 or less a year for the work of their hands in fields and factories. The U.S. minimum wage earner is a relative Bill Gates to them.
Obviously, the world’s understanding of human value is not the same as God’s. Yes, we propose appropriately lofty phrases such as “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights….” But we operate as if people are a collection of chemicals that can be graded and purchased by the hour or ability.
We mistakenly communicate human value as something with a price tag. In a sinful world, is it any wonder that human trafficking is $9 billion criminal industry in the United States? According to the FBI, more than 100,000 persons are trafficked in this country. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center identifies more than 10 people a month in Texas who are sex trafficked, and more than three each month are under the age of 18! Here is a true story about the ultimate effect of a price tag on a young victim of sex trafficking in Texas.
A volunteer with Refuge of Light met this girl in a short-term shelter in East Texas. The 15-year-old girl is “worth” the equivalent of $800.00 an hour for her pimp. This very attractive girl has developed a misguided sense of pride in being “worth” so much. Like a top-tier CEO or a celebrity, she feels extremely valuable to her pimp, who has brainwashed her into thinking he loves her.
To the outside world, she is a “throw away kid” living in the hopelessness of generational poverty with no way out. Uneducated, lacking skills and intelligence. A drain on society. A predator. The world would assume the worst of her. In fact, the only person in her life telling her how valuable she is is the man who lured her, lied to her, drugged her, beat her, raped her and forced her to do unspeakable things with whatever paying customer happened to show up night after night.
Christian missionary, Amy Carmichael, who served in India in the 1800s said, “There is no such thing as an unwanted child. Every child is wanted by someone.”
That was certainly the case with this girl. Unwanted by her family, her community and her world, she was highly valued by those who would then devour and destroy her mind, body and soul—or at least that was the plan.
Thanks be to God, this volunteer was able to let this girl know she is valued by God. But in a short-term shelter, she will be back with the pimp who has her fooled by the time you read this article! It is in that world where she mistakenly feels she is worth something. Oh, how our hearts should break at this, for we who believe on Jesus know this girl is worth so much to God!
Jesus’ followers know familiar scriptures that remind us that humankind is so valuable to God that “He gave his one and only son” (John 3:16). Jesus has “bought us with a price” (1Corinthians 7:23) and valued us more highly than a good man and “died for us while were sinners.”
These truths must be lived out, not simply known. Our Savior’s ministry began with a declaration to “let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). To believe this and live out Jesus’ call puts us in a conflict with cultural faith that is comfortable with the world’s value of humankind.
This authentic Christianity is costly, as we declare the true value of people in the Creator’s perspective. William Wilberforce said that compared to “cultural Christianity, …authentic Christianity is like a Rembrandt compared to child’s drawing.” What we have to offer is so much more valuable, beautiful and costly.
Valuing people as other’s means that there is no acceptable number of victims of human trafficking, much less sex trafficking in our state. It means paying the price to construct long-term facilities like the Refuge of Light where victims can truly be valued as God values them. It means advocating with passion and purpose for legislation that frees victims and captures perpetrators of pornography and prostitution. It means raising children that will not become purchasers or victims of the sex-trafficking industry.
It means showing the world that dirt is an invaluable work of art in the hands of God.
By Jay Abernathy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Palestine.