The Worth of the Human Soul

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Every man, woman, and child is the literal offspring of God. Knowing and understanding this truth affects the way we live, the way we treat others, and the way we see the world around us. It is an essential part of understanding the worth of each human soul, including our own. This truth is one of the main focuses in The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

Worth vs. Worthiness

All too often individuals don’t understand the difference between worthiness and worth. For example, we might notice someone doing something we interpret as wrong or inappropriate. In our eyes, he loses some of his value, or worth, because he isn’t doing as well as we think he should. Because of our perception, we might begin to treat him as if he is worthless. But this is a mistake. A person’s actions can never diminish his or her eternal worth.

Worthiness, on the other hand, does depend on our thoughts, words, and actions. When we fail to live in a way that pleases God, we become less worthy before him. Stealing, cheating in school or business, deceiving, treating others unkindly, being unfaithful to a spouse – all these acts make us less worthy. We all sin; therefore, we are all unworthy of salvation.

God knew we would sin. He knows no human being can be perfect. That is why he sent his Son to atone for our sins. Because of the atonement, we can repent and try again. So while we may not be worthy of God’s grace, to him we are always worth saving.

Scholars Barbara Lockhart and Shirley Cox explain that worth, unlike worthiness, is unchangeable. It is constant and unconnected to our actions. The worth, or value of a person, is absolute. Everyone has eternal value. Nothing you say, do, think, or feel can change your worth. The car you drive, the clothes you wear, the job you have, the size and shape of your body, the color of your hair (or whether you have hair at all) – all have absolutely no effect on your worth. Even committing the gravest sins cannot change your eternal worth to God.

Though worth and worthiness are not the same things, they are connected. If a person sees himself as worthless, he is more likely to care less about himself and thus is more likely to sin. On the other hand, if a person understands his absolute and unchangeable value before God, he is more likely to try to live a worthy life. He understands the importance of his life to God and will try to live up to his fullest potential.

Recognizing worth in others and in ourselves changes the way we see ourselves and the world. We respect ourselves and expect more of ourselves. We notice the goodness inside of us, for there is goodness inside of every person. It also changes our judgments of others. No one is perfect. But when we understand the value of others to God, we are more forgiving, even when those mistakes injure us. We see the worth and goodness that God sees.

Our Worth to God

Protestant researcher David Clark has said that while none of us is worthy of God’s salvation (because we all sin), we all have worth. How do we know this? Clark relates this comparison. When you buy something, the price that you pay is equal in value to the thing you are buying. So, if you pay one dollar for a loaf of bread, the value of that loaf is one dollar. Now consider that through the atonement, Jesus Christ “bought” the gift of salvation for the souls of all mankind, both righteous and unrighteous. The buying price--the Savior’s perfect life and his limitless suffering in Gethsemane--is infinite. Because he freely chose to pay that price, we can conclude that he considered it a fair price. Thus we are each of infinite worth to him.

Counterfeit Notions of Worth

Much of the world today thinks a person of worth is someone talented, attractive, rich, or famous. In sports, we often talk about how much players are “worth.” We talk the same way about entrepreneurs, actors, and models. They are “worth” millions and even billions of dollars. But external appearance, employment status, and financial worth can never affect a person’s worth before God. But they can affect worthiness. If a person believes in these counterfeit signs of worth, he is more likely to focus on worldly accomplishments rather than character. Instead of spending time at home with family, he may stay at work late to finish a new deal or project so he can get a promotion or make more money. His worldly worth might increase, but as he neglects sacred responsibilities, his worthiness before God diminishes.

Material possessions are another counterfeit measure of worth. Big houses, expensive cars, fashionable clothes – all can become harmful when people think they must have them in order to be valued. They can also become whirlpools that swallow up not only money but time and attention as a person tries to keep up with the latest trends and styles. Just as quickly as a person’s “worth” increases by owning the newest car, it decreases when the new model comes. The result can be a never-ending cycle of short-term satisfaction followed by disappointment, regret, and debt.

In American culture one of the most insidious counterfeits of worth--and worthiness--is thinness. Some people, women in particular, believe that if they are thin their worth--and their worthiness--is greater. In an attempt to gain this greater worth, some are willing to starve themselves, even to literal death. Many of those who cannot meet their standard of thinness, however unrealistic it might be, cannot see themselves as worth just as much as those who are thinner.

Practical Suggestions

The following ideas will help you understand and remember your eternal worth.

  • Look beyond yourself. Don’t dwell on your imperfections (we’re all imperfect), but rather discover your eternal worth by focusing on others. Seek out positive traits in yourself and other people, and point them out when appropriate. As you recognize the eternal worth of all people, you will find yourself becoming a more freely loving person.
  • Keep a journal. Pay particular attention to experiences that bring you joy and record them in a journal. When you need to be reminded of your worth, reread the passages you have written. Self-reflection helps you to see the hand of the Lord in your life.
  • Pray sincerely. Through contemplative prayer, you can feel God’s love for you and your worth to him. If you practice the stillness needed to commune with him, he will help you perceive your limitless capacity to do good and to overcome weaknesses. Draw upon God for help, strength, and motivation.
  • Let go of needing credit. When you don’t require credit for the things you do, you are spared the burdens of jealousy and selfishness. Focus on doing things for the benefit of others, not to appear greater in comparison to them. Acts of kindness unseen by others are often the most satisfying.
  • Serve others. Service increases love and appreciation for others, which in turn helps us recognize our own worth. Simple acts of kindness also reminds those being served that they too have worth and are worth loving. Teach your family the importance of service by serving together, such as visiting someone who is sick, volunteering at a homeless shelter, mowing a neighbor’s lawn, or donating items to those who are less fortunate.
  • Befriend those who are lonely. Notice people within your sphere who live alone or might be lonely for other reasons. Make an effort to visit these individuals and to include them on occasion in family activities or outings.
  • Respect and reverence your body. Be grateful for your body and take care of it by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Avoid focusing on whether you have the “right” shape.
  • Discover worth within your family. If you live within a family, take time one evening, possibly during dinner, to discuss something about each family member that gives them worth. Write down these traits and display them where family members will see them often, such as on the fridge. Frequently remind family members of their eternal worth and of their importance in your family.
  • Enjoy God’s creations. Take the time to enjoy nature and the simple, magnificent creations of God. Recognize that God provided all this beauty because he loves you.

Additional Reading

Goddard, H. W. (2002, April). Getting past self-esteem [Electronic version]. Marriage and Families, 24-29. 

Written by Jennifer Crockett, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.

References

  1. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (1998, August). Strengthen your sense of self-worth. Liahona, 42.
  2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (1989, September). The worth of souls is great. Tambuli, 7.
  3. Clark, D. K. (1985). Philosophical reflections on self-worth and self-love. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 13, 3-11.
  4. Goddard, W. (2002, April). Getting past self-esteem [Electronic version]. Marriage and Families,24-29.
  5. Hill, A. J., & Pallin, V. (1998). Dieting awareness and low self-worth: Related issues in 8-year-old girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 24(4), 405-413.
  6. Katz, L. G. (1993). All about me: Are we developing our children’s self-esteem or their narcissism? American Educator, 17, 18-23.
  7. Jacob, J. C. (1991, January). The worth of souls [Electronic version]. Ensign, 66-69.
  8. Lockhart, B. D., & Cox, S. E. (2000). The divine nature of each individual. In D. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our Families: An In-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 217-226). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
  9. Miller, A. B., & Keys, C. B. (2001). Understanding dignity in the lives of homeless persons. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 331-354.
  10. Morgan, O. (1959). A philosophy for family life education revised. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 5, 80-84.
  11. Smith, T. L. (1967). Work and human worth. The Christian Century, 84, 1094-1097.