If one observes the daily processes and events in the world, as they are conveyed to us by the media, then one cannot help feeling that a life, a human life, is no longer worth much. And one should ask oneself the question: What does a human life mean to me? Yes, how do I see myself, what am I worth? Here I do not mean the value of my body in its chemical composition, but my value as a human being, as a being capable of ethical thinking, or if I am religious, if I am Christian, as a being thought in the image of God.
This question is closely related to our self-assessment and self-esteem. Everyone has a sense of self-esteem, except perhaps certain mentally ill people. This self-esteem is important for our daily life and our interaction with each other. But on what basis is our self-assessment and self-esteem based?
Quite a few base this feeling on their property, on money and good, on power and influence, on prestige and social position. So their self-confidence depends on external things, regardless of whether they have created these external conditions themselves or whether they owe them more or less to chance. In any case, they base their self-assessment on social reasons. In the past one often heard the word: If you have something, you are something!
Others base their self-esteem on their intellect, on achievements in very different fields, on education and cultural awareness, i.e. on more foundations coming from their own self. There are people for whom this feeling and consciousness, this self-assessment is extremely exaggerated, which is often also shown in their behaviour towards others, while on the other hand there are people for whom this consciousness is extremely weak, through social conditions, predisposition or even education and experiences of their lives; such people are often exploited and count among the disadvantaged with, as they say, negative life prognoses.
But a person's self-esteem, even if it is religious, can be based on another basis: his religious conviction. There this feeling of man may be heightened by the teaching he receives, such as: "You are a member of the only right religion; you are in the truth; only with us are you safe and saved from future tribulations; you are chosen; you are special! Thus, an elitist consciousness is often created here, based only on the assertions of the respective leadership, which leads to other people being treated with disdain, if not bad company, and rejected. Here the rule applies: We are the good ones, those on the safe side, the others are bad, are worldly men, condemned, and they will soon be destroyed. Such a way of thinking and such self-esteem usually make people hard, merciless, pitiless, arrogant and arrogant, which is also reflected in our dealings with others and in our attitude towards them.
Does the Bible give me an answer to this, an answer that also gives me a stable self-esteem? When I think about this question, I remember the story of a young man from antiquity. He came from a privileged metropolitan, wealthy, educated and respected, also very religious family. He was the foundation for an extremely strong self-confidence and self-esteem. Since the religious faith of this family had a very high value, the young man was also educated accordingly; religion, zeal for the faith and the God of his fathers, for his law, meant a lot to him. He was therefore given the best possible religious training at that time; he was sent to the center of religious education and practice, Jerusalem, and studied with the then recognized best teacher, Gamaliel. The young man's name was Saul.
He became a zealot, and although Gamaliel was a well-balanced, not fanatical teacher, Saul, by temperament and by the desire to serve the God of his people, became exceedingly precise in all matters concerning his religion. He joined the most pious and determined religious group in Jerusalem, the Pharisees, and he surpassed all his contemporaries in commitment and religious conscientiousness. Thus he also became known to the leading body of the Jews of that time, the Sanhedrin, and he was recognized, respected. Such a man could be entrusted with special tasks.
Of course, his attitude also meant that he viewed people with the greatest severity, even with enmity, whom he considered to be transgressors of the law of God and of the traditions of the fathers. Especially a group of Jews was a thorn in his side who worshiped a certain Jesus who had shortly before been executed as a renegade and blasphemer; but the followers of this man, whom they called Christ, spread out.
So he set himself the goal of taking action against this group. The Sanhedrin's attitude toward these people seemed too lax to him, even according to reports there were sympathizers for these people even in this corporation. He sought the support of the priests and began to take action against these renegade Jews. Nor did he mind watching a respected person being stoned to death, even guarding the clothes of those who were stoned to death by a certain Stephen. And when he had quite successfully asserted his intentions in Jerusalem, he granted himself powers to do his work in other cities where this brood began to spread. He had no personal interest in this, nor did he have any compassion or mercy; and so he became known not only in Jerusalem but throughout the region; his motto was: All for the God of his fathers, for Yahweh! The Jewish community had to be kept pure!
So he set out for Syria with zeal; his destination was Damascus. It is known what he experienced shortly before reaching this city; this event went down as "Damascus experience" in the usage of the term catastrophically drastic personal experiences which completely change a person. Saul was so impressed by what happened to him that he never forgot, but talked about it again and again, so that his later travel companion Luke also mentioned the report about it three times in his notes. That Saul fell to the ground and went blind from the shine of light for some time was still the least; much more weighed the fact that he, who did everything in sincerity and zeal for God, had to realize that in spite of his dedication, in spite of honesty of heart, in spite of his prayers and observance of religious rules, in spite of intensive training in the law, in spite of his good will to serve God, he had to realize that he was completely on the wrong steamship.
This Jesus, whom he persecuted in the form of his followers to glorify God, was indeed the Messiah sent by God, God's Plenipotentiary, was the Lord!
This knowledge caused his whole view of the world to collapse; it put his inner being into chaos, it even destroyed his whole life so far or what he had lived for in the rock-solid certainty of serving God and having the truth. That was not a matter he could dismiss with a shrug of his shoulders, for instance "well, I was wrong about that; now I have new light". No, that went deep inside, to the heart and kidneys. Nor could he say, "I was taught that way and for me that was the truth". No, that would have been cheap excuses. The fact remained: He, the zealot for God, had actually stood against God. This experience hit him so hard that he neither ate nor drank for three days. He was completely occupied with organizing his inner being, and he had to realize that his self-esteem based on his religious conviction, his self-assessment, had completely collapsed.
The only thing that gave him hold was his holding on to his God, despite his wrong way so far, and his holding on to the one he had now recognized as Lord. This showed sincerity in his heart. But at that time he could only pray until he was redeemed by the now recognized Lord. We all know the story of this man who from now on called himself Paul.
This Paul had an extraordinarily high self-esteem as Saul; but it was completely destroyed. He had to realize that people are really only "dust" (Psalm 103:14), that their best works before God do not establish self-confidence (Isaiah 64:5). All that was so precious to Saul was later described by Paul as rubbish, and he may have felt himself to be "the last filth," or, as he called it, the first of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). This is why he later also wrote that no flesh boasted before God (1 Corinthians 1:29-31). Paul had realized that man is "worth nothing" in his own right before God, that he cannot boast of any value or achievement; he can only boast of God. But why should he?
Paul had collapsed inwardly; he had completely lost his self-esteem. But just so, in this knowledge and consciousness, he was malleable for the purpose for which God had chosen him. For now he was allowed to learn something that gave him a completely new self-esteem, a completely different self-esteem. He was allowed to recognize what is so often quoted: the love of God (John 3:16). For God man is worth so much, for God a Saul was worth so much that he sent his Son, and that he gave his life to free people from guilt and reconcile them with God, and whoever accepted this offer, even a gift from God, had the authority to belong to God's family (John 1:12-13). This did not require approval from the leadership of any community or organization. Paul was allowed to learn:
This put his self-esteem, his self-confidence, his self-assessment on a completely new basis. He learned: You need not be afraid of anyone; your value does not depend on outward appearances nor on your own achievements; you have received your value from God, who gave you the life of his Son. How could you be low in this? No, not small, but also not arrogant, for your value does not come from yourself, it is given to you by God; but no one can take it from you, whatever may happen to you in life.
You may have the consciousness: I am worth something! Not because I myself have achieved so much, because I do so much, but because God has given me value. That is why I may, indeed should, have a healthy self-esteem.
But the Bible also warns us not to have an exaggerated feeling of this kind, for we are aware that our self-esteem is based on God's grace. Therefore, she advises us to apply the principles of the Lordship of Christ in this regard already today:
We are worth something; thank God for that!