I must start at me. As Descarte found – Cogito Ergo Sum – I think therefore I am. Everything can be doubted, but the best evidence I have is my experience. I must find my first footing at the point of my own existence.
Either I have value inherently, innately, or I ultimately have none at all. I can also have value provisionally or via pragmatism, but both of these are fickle and/or fleeting and I will fail to thrive unless I perceive an inherent value to my existence.
What do I mean by “provisional value”? Provisional is a way of saying something is temporary, for a specific interim, not intended for long term or permanent usage. Provisional value is a temporary way in which can perceive our lives as valuable and worthy of existence. Family is our primary source of provisional value – at least it should be (and here I must wince for my own failings). A parent must value their child for who and what they are – because they exist – not conditionally or pragmatically. This provisional valuing must carry the child – at the very least – until they can gain the strength and wisdom to live from inherent value. (ideally, the parents value of their children will never fade from sight as long as they live – but lets face facts – it aint that way so often – and most likely because the parents are trying to gain provisional value from their children rather than having the strength and wisdom that comes from inherent value themselves. Vicious cycle that.)
And what do I mean by “pragmatic value”? Simply put… if you are useful and practically valuable in the life of another – if you “do well”, then and only then you are valuable and worthy of existence – at least until you don’t. In slightly different words… If you perform well and are a benefit to the bottom line of others, you are worthy and have value – upon the condition that you continue to do good. Provisional value (call it love if you are so reminded) is helpful if steady and reliable and (most importantly) unconditional. Pragmatic value, on the other hand – especially if from someone you believe loves you (a parent, a spouse) or even friends, co-workers, authorities, your adoring public… will eventually crush you like an empty soda-pop can unless you are filled and strengthened by either provisional or inherent value. Both inherent and provisional value provide meaning and significance (which we all hunger for more than we will ever admit ) and will allow the stress of pragmatic value to press hard from without. If pragmatic value engages upon a life empty of either inherent or provisional value, it will never create the meaning and significance we seek – it just aint that kinda value – it will only create pressure to the point of hopeless collapse.
Provisional value can take the place of inherent value but pragmatic value never can. Anytime someone says to you “I love you” and actually means precisely that, you receive provisional value. But I am sorry to say that this is more rare that it sounds. Often when people say “I love you”, what they actually mean is “I love the way you make me feel” which is a pretty durn good definition of pragmatic value. This cannot substitute for inherent value and will never provide the meaning and significance we hunger for.
Now here is where I’m likely to lose many of you…
You will never receive inherent value from another human person (nor even from yourself – especially never from your self). Others only have the strength to grant you provisional or pragmatic value because they themselves are only provisional in your life. (Perhaps this is one reason why losing a loved one can be so traumatic to our well-being?) The same is true in reverse – you are only provisional in the lives of others. (Side thought: Now there remains a slight possibility that you may also receive real provisional value from your doggy – in fact I suspect that is the very reason they are here – but your cat? fuget about it.)
If you are of the mind to reject the idea that you exist as a person for the purpose of relationship with the One who created you from eternity (by which I mean God) you are only ever going to be able to receive pragmatic value with a smattering of provisional value.
Value, defined in short, is the state of being desired. If another human desires you because of your looks or your money or the stuff you give them – that is pragmatic value. If another human loves you unconditionally and desires you simply because you exist – regardless of your mood or manners or mistakes – that is provisional value. If that Person is your very Creator, saying He loves you because you exist, and verily loves you from outside the bounds of time and space – that is inherent value. That is the kind of value which allows the human creature to truly thrive.
Now… a lot of “religious” people have not understood this about God and have never gained the wisdom required to experientially receive inherent value from God. They have assumed mistakenly that God’s love is strictly pragmatic – that He will only love you if you behave in certain ways and provide certain benefits to Him (as if He needed anything of the sort from us…). This is fatal to inherent value. The best advice I can give anyone considering a godward life is to delay your “good works” for a time, as long as is needed, and just experience the love of God as fully as you are able. Anything you do “for God” which is not motivated by love is worthless anyhow, and you will never be able to give to God what you have not first received from Him – so be loved before you try to be anything else. Here is inherent value – here is meaning and significance and forgiveness and relationship and love beyond the favor of fickle friends.