On the “Love Without Fear” FB page I recently linked a Ted Talk from Brene Brown about vulnerability. Her thesis is that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who are always trying to overcome their weaknesses and those who are willing to accept their own imperfection. Her research shows that it is the second group who finds fulfillment in the midst of life’s struggles, which is no surprise to me given that a foundational truth of the Christian faith is that we have to be honest about our sinful condition and admit that we need the work of Christ in our lives. We are incapable of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and attaining goodness by trying harder. So she says the road to fullfilment begins with embracing our worthiness.
Wait . . . “worthiness“?
Hmmm, that doesn’t sound very Evangelical, and especially not Reformed. We are not inherently good, so how can we be considered worthy? All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death. We are not worthy of heaven. We have earned spiritual death, not entrance into the family of God. So is Brown’s talk at odds with the way the Bible describes the human condition?
I don’t think so, and I think this line of thinking (which I engaged in the first time I heard the talk) illustrates a very narrow sense in which some Christians think about themselves. I think we are worthy in the sense that Brown means it, and the concept is thoroughly Biblical. The first question we have to answer is, worthy of what? Here is a quote from Brown where she is explicit (emphasis mine):
You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.
Some might read her words as so much psychobabble, but in fact I would counter that this concept is the core of how we should look at the human condition. We were created for connection, not just to God but to other people. We were created for love, to both give and to receive it. Both Paul and Jesus make this the highest command and summation of the law: to give love to God and one another. So I think it’s clear we were created to need love and belonging, but are we worthy of it?
I think the answer is clearly yes. In creation, God created man in his own image. While we have been marred by the introduction of sin into the world, we still are all image bearers of our Creator, which means we still retain that value- or worthiness if you will. If people did not have worth, there would be no point to “justice”, yet this word is used over and over again in the Old Testament. Justice is giving people their “due”, which means punishing the wicked and elevating the oppressed. If the image of God was completely stamped out, if people have no worth at all because they are utterly depraved, then there is no point to justice. But that isn’t what the Bible teaches. Though sin touched every part of us (which is what “total depravity” is all about), it did not destroy our inherent worth, and so God commands over and over again to make places for the “windows and orphans,” for the “aliens”, and the poor. Why? Because they are human beings still stamped with the image of God. They are worthy of love and belonging.
And, as Brown suggests, the way in which we search for that love and belonging can bring us joy, or it can make us miserable. If we start at a place where we fear unworthiness and work to make up the difference, we’ll think we have to be better, stronger, more beautiful, have more money, and be more successful. But when we step back and say, “I am worthy of love and belonging even though I’m weak and imperfect”, then we can embrace connections with others (and ultimately God) far more easily. Belief that we have worth in our imperfection allows us to be vulnerable about our weakness, which ultimately leads to the road of accepting the love of Jesus to remove that imperfection.
We ARE worthy, worthy of love and belonging. It’s how we were put together and part of who we are as human beings. Brown is completely on point with this, even if at first blush it seems to be contradictory to some of our evangelical language. But in the final analysis, it is the world that says we must overcome our weakness and never admit to failure; it is the Gospel that says God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for our sins. And because we are loved, we know that we have worth. It is the Gospel that reveals our worthiness.