We live in a consumer culture that demands the “latest and greatest” to complete the tasks we need to do. When we buy something we often are looking for how useful it is to us. A car gets us from “A” to “B”; a new laptop lets us browse the internet and complete tasks for school, work, and many other things. Sadly, this usefulness mindset is not only applied to products, but also to people.
Is it wrong to seek usefulness in people? Yes and no. God calls us to be useful when He says “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). However, this is not before the Bible says that humans are made in the Image of God (Gen 1:27). The Bible places value before usefulness, but what does this look like in a world where usefulness is elevated over the value of a person?
Our evaluations of people beg the question “What can they contribute to society?” What we are really asking is “what can they do for me?” We may not be asking the right question because we are thinking too narrowly. Instead, we could start by asking, “Who is this valuable person?” This shifts value away from what a person can do (usefulness) to who the person is, infinitely valuable because they are created in God’s image. Only then do we ask “what unique gifts or abilities does this person have to offer?” From this perspective, we learn to appreciate the whole range of abilities. Someone may not be able to lift heavy objects, for instance, but maybe they can greet people with a warm smile.
When God created He said “it is good”, not “it is useful”. God did not intend for us to label people for what they can do but to value people for who they are.
In the dictionary, value and usefulness are synonymous; but there is a significant difference that may be missed. Value is the regard that something is held to deserve; usefulness is the quality or fact of being useful. If we look at someone only for their usefulness we do not attribute the regard they fully deserve. People are more than just packers, dishwashers, or support workers.
Thinking about the value of all people is a step in the right direction. We must value people for who they are: citizens, humans, brothers and sisters that we journey alongside in this short life on this earth. To truly value someone we have to see them through the lens of our Creator, God. What does God say about humans? First, we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Second, when God created us He said it was “very good”. Third, even though we are sinners God values us so much that he sent his Son to redeem us.
As people of faith we should be deeply concerned with who a person is because we know the value God has placed on all people. Each one of us is valued equally in the eyes of God and the call of salvation extends to every human being. When it comes to people we interact with in our workplace, in public, and with the people we may support what question are we asking of them? Are we asking “what can they do for me?” or are we looking through the lens of “who are they and what value do they bring?”
It is evident that usefulness is not inherently bad. Usefulness and value have their respective place when interacting with people. Usefulness in a person is neither the start nor the end of the conversation. Usefulness must be secondary to the incredible value each and every person embodies.
Addison Phillips is currently finishing a Bachelors of Religious Education (BRE) at Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, ON He is also Interning at Christian Horizons for the 2017-2018 academic year in the Spiritual and Organizational Life department. Addison is newly married to Julia and they are starting their new life together and both have a passion to serve others.