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Thursday, March 05, 2015

What Are You Worth to God?

I may enjoy sports a bit too much — I’ll watch virtually anything involving competition and victory or defeat. Being a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, I have become intimately familiar with the defeat side of the competition equation. 

But because I’m a sports fan, I’ve chosen a very common sports object — a baseball — with which to draw a parallel.

There are three distinct ways to value anything at all, including either a baseball or a human life.

Approach #1: Constituent Value

The first approach is that which might be taken by a chemist or an engineer. It is the approach I’ll call constituent value. To put it more simply, worth can be assessed by simply determining the material cost of any given object.

Major League Baseball uses Rawlings to manufacture the balls used in a game. I had a quick look and it appears that I can buy a bucket of two dozen of those Rawlings “official” baseballs on Amazon.com for $44.99 — just under $2 a ball. I’d guess that MLB gets a sharper volume-based deal than I do, so we’re probably closer to a rough metric of a buck a ball at cost. That means Rawlings can source, ship, assemble and deliver those balls at a very low cost indeed; there’s not much value when we measure things in that way.

What about a human life? If we measured worth according to component value, a life can be reduced to an approximate value of $160.00, at least according to this summary of materials.

Sounds pretty rough doesn’t it? How much are you and I worth if value is determined by our component cost? By that scale, you’re worth less to me than my family’s weekly grocery bill or the cost to fill up the Winnebago for a day’s drive. But it’s worse than that, because $160 worth of raw material to a God who created the cosmos and owns the stars themselves doesn’t even register on the scale. If we consider value as a function of composition, we are of no worth to God whatsoever.

Approach #2: Supply and Demand

But hang on. There’s a second approach to the question of worth. Instead of looking at the cost of composition, we can look at the value of something as a matter of scarcity. That is to say, we can assess the worth of something based on its availability or shortage — as a function of demand. We all understand that rare items are of greater value than common ones (no matter what their constituent cost) may be. Perhaps that yields a happier result for our consideration.

Baseball is a game of statistics. So let’s consider some simple math based on the numbers MLB provides.

Any given ball has an effective major league life of six pitches. A major league game consumes about 9 dozen balls. Each of the 30 MLB teams will play 162 regular season games — a total of 2,430 games this year; that number doesn’t include games played in the post-season or exhibition games. That totals up to a very conservative estimated consumption of 262,440 balls in each major league year played — more than a quarter million baseballs that are used and then trashed for our entertainment. Some tiny fraction of those balls will go home with happy fans, but most will simply disappear into the umpire’s bag — and then what? I don’t know. They’re gone to whatever place useless rawhide-covered spheres must go when they can’t be pitched any more.

How about a human life measured by the same scale of scarcity? What’s a human life’s value on that basis?

As I write this I’m watching an abortion counter tick upward. It’s running at the rate of about once a second. Put another way, that’s about 1.3 billion abortions worldwide since 1980 when the stats started being collected; that’s 1.3 billion lives extinguished without much thought, pity or remorse and without consequence (or so we’re assured by the increasingly shrill abortion rights movement). There’ll be something on the order of 100,000 abortions today alone, and tomorrow the dreadful drumbeat of death will continue unabated.

Would you rather not hear about abortion? If you prefer, you may turn on the television and watch ISIS beheading and burning and slaughtering their way across the Middle East — so coldly indifferent to killing even small children who can’t understand the finer points of Islam, cheerily slaughtering aid workers who came to help the poor while capturing it all on YouTube video, or enslaving and brutalizing women who had the temerity to be born into the wrong culture or wear the wrong clothing — all human distinctions virtually irrelevant to them as they prove, seemingly on a daily basis, that human life has no worth to Allah.

Not so keen on distant foreign troubles? No problem. Any of the major centres near you feature daily tales of appalling indifference to human life in any flavour or variety you wish; motivated by a thousand different warped outlooks and dark desires.

Still you may disregard all of that evidence if you wish. For even closer to home is the reality that your own story will soon enough end, whether violently or peacefully, in the same way virtually every other human story has ever ended— in the cold darkness of a grave.

The sobering reality is that James was right when he wrote that you and I are like blades of grass; here today and gone tomorrow. If you disappeared right now, even in a particularly remarkable or horrible way, only a very few would notice or care or mark your passing at all, and only for an instant of time when compared to the age of the cosmos. If you listen to the garden-variety materialist (and I don’t want to recommend such an unwise thing!), you are nothing but a meat puppet who will leave no measurable trace behind. You have no meaning and certainly no value. 

That sad message of human despair and insignificance is repeated every day in a thousand small ways if you listen to the world: life itself is almost inconceivably cheap. You are one of roughly 7 billion souls on planet earth at this particular moment and the very planet itself is impossibly irrelevant when held up against the scale of the indifferent universe that surrounds us.

So what are you worth to God when measured by the scale of scarcity? “Not much” is the resounding answer. By simple and observable human standards, you and I are cheap, commonplace and achingly temporal; as such we cannot have any measurable worth to an eternal God.

Approach #3: What is it Worth to You?

But there is yet a third measure of value. It is a measure savvy marketers will tell you is the true way to assess value and ultimately the only one that really matters. It is a measure of value that disregards constituent costs, and dismisses the worth associated with scarcity. Indeed it ignores any other common valuation metric in favour of one simple question: What will someone voluntarily pay for this?

It is this third measure of value that drove a rather strange fellow named Todd McFarlane to pay $3,000,000 for a single baseball that by any other accounting is worth perhaps a buck; that’s $3,000,000 for a ball that in the normal course of events would have been discarded or given away for nothing. You can read about it here.

It should be plain that at the point that McFarlane opened his wallet he wasn’t considering traditional profit and loss economics, future resale value or anything at all except his deep and abiding passion for baseball and — in this case — for a particular ball that was used to set a new home run record. 

Three things bear particular notice about McFarlane’s purchase:

1.    There was nothing about the ball that was of innate value to McFarlane; it wasn’t the fact that the ball had “Rawlings” imprinted on the surface or that it was stitched together with particular skill. It did not come off the Rawlings assembly line and appear to be far superior to its many peers! If a common baseball were what he wanted, McFarlane could simply have stopped by a sporting goods store with some pocket change in hand. So why spend 3 million?

Because when anyone looks at this particular baseball in future, they will not marvel at the skill of the assembly line that produced it; instead they will marvel at the athletic skill of Mark McGwire who hit that particular ball out of the park one evening and set a record in so doing. What mattered to McFarlane was that something particularly special, something unique, had been done to that ball by a man; something that had never been done before by anyone else.

2.    The depth to which Todd McFarlane dipped into his bank account is a measure of his resources but also a measure of his particular zeal — we might call it mania — and his alone. Given that he purchased this particular baseball at an auction where others could have offered more, it’s clear that nobody else was willing or able to pay as much as he did to buy it. But he paid $3,000,000 to buy a baseball and then he went on his way rejoicing at the wisdom and pleasure of the purchase. Mania — or zeal — indeed.

3.    Whatever the fate of that particular baseball might have been prior to Mr. McFarlane’s purchase, you may be assured that once he had purchased it, the baseball he had bought would be protected and displayed proudly in a place of honour — somewhere that it might be secure but also seen, appreciated and enjoyed regularly. It’s impossible to imagine that such a purchase would be cavalierly tossed aside or discarded lightly.

God and Value

All of that rambling about baseball and valuation brings us back to the title of this particular article. We’re now ready to understand three things about God and how he values you. Just like McFarlane’s baseball, you are not valued by God for anything innate. There is nothing in you that God needs or lacks; you are not composed of anything He does not already have in abundance.

But as a Christian, you are valued and treasured not for what you were, but because of what has been accomplished in you through Christ. God the Father is not drawn to your innate value or appeal — He’s drawn to you by virtue of what His Son did to buy you back from sin. This is what it means to be “in Christ”: we receive benefit not because of who we were or what is in us, but rather because of what has been done to us and through us by our Sovereign and how our Heavenly Father now sees the Son’s handiwork reflected in our redemption. It isn’t about you at all. It’s about Him.

Christ has redeemed you at an immense price; a price none other could or would pay, but which He has gladly paid. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the Lord Jesus enduring the cross and despising the pain for the joy that was set before Him. That is zeal of the highest order and of the best sort.

The Fate of the Christian

What is the fate of the Christian then? As Corinthians reminds us, we are not our own — we’ve been bought with a price. Having purchased us at such a cost, having already paid the cost of our redemption in full, it is unreasonable and uncharitable to think that Christ would leave us to fend for ourselves, to find our own way home or to work our own way heavenward. That sort of indifference would be an odd attitude toward such a costly purchase.

So as Christians, I want to assure you that we are not in danger of loss. Instead, you and I and every other believer are beloved and treasured trophies of Christ’s grace. He will point to us one day as sterling examples of His wisdom and His unsearchable ways. When He does so, not one of us will be missing.

What Are You Worth?

What are you worth? It’s measured by what God was willing to pay for you. The real measure of things — despite the testimony of the world around and the vast numbers of other people on planet earth — is that you are inestimably and unspeakably valuable in the opinion of One who is wiser than any other. 

If a silly baseball analogy helps to round out your appreciation of the fact that you are loved passionately and unshakably, that’s terrific. But it is impossible to summarize the truth of your value to God in any stronger or better words than those of 1 Peter 1:
“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

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