For the past few semesters, I give something called ‘The Preference Test‘ as a way to lead into the Argument from Desire when speaking of God’s existence. This test gives a series of would-you-rather questions but proposed in a slightly different way. I understand why the students sometimes find it silly because it pits options like You are loved against You are not loved. It seems easy enough to be clear about what you would truly prefer, but so many times the students struggle to admit that they desire something when intellectually they are convinced it doesn’t exist or isn’t real.
One question asked if they would rather have their value be innate or dependent on their abilities. This one is always interesting, because the hard-working, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality comes out in full force even if it isn’t really what anyone would truly want. I asked what they preferred. Did they prefer to be worth something just because they exist or did they prefer to strive for worthiness?
So many of them argued that culturally our value is based on our net worth or the skills we’ve acquired or how gifted we are. I told them I understood that, but asked how do you want your value to be determined? Still some insisted that they would prefer that measuring rod of value.
Interestingly, some seemed to fear nobody would work hard if they just knew they were valuable. I wonder if it is because they work hard to be good and then they wonder what it would be like if everyone had value regardless of their skills. Perhaps it is because they feel validated by meeting certain expectations and don’t know what it would mean if those measuring rods were broken and thrown away. Who would they be without grades or athletic giftedness or money or determination?
And it just made my heart ache to see them striving so much. So many of our problems seem to stem from not knowing our true worth or identity. If we all fully understood it, perhaps we wouldn’t be compelled to step on other people or gossip or give up or lie or do whatever we do to get ahead. Or whatever we do to numb the feeling that we aren’t worth anything or can never amount to much. People suffer from not knowing their own true value more than being too full of their own giftedness. I’m quite confident that the ones who seem the most full of themselves are so because they recognize within themselves a radical insufficiency.
One of the other questions asked if they would rather life is accidental and nothing cares about them or would they rather have a loving Father who created them and who cares about them. A few answered that they would rather be an accident because then they wouldn’t worry about disappointing other people. When I hear answers like that, even when they are driving me crazy, it makes me want them to always know their deep, innate goodness. Even when they make terrible mistakes, I want them to know that they are never too far gone. Nothing is too much for the Lord to forgiven and He never even for a second regrets pouring Himself out for us.
This deep and abiding love of the Father is something that can never be driven away or suppressed or conquered by hatred. He loves without condition. We can never hear that too often because we are so quick to question our value. Our experience of true, unconditional love is limited or nonexistent and therefore difficult to wrap our minds around. I do not love unconditionally; how can I imagine someone who does?
When I heard about this great fear of disappointing others, I attempted to enter into that place with them. I said I was surprised that the fear of disappointing others was greater than their desire to be loved or valued. “You must feel like you are under a lot of pressure in order to choose no love above disappointing people sometimes,” I offered, in an attempt to share this vulnerability.
But, the conversation didn’t go as I had hoped.
Instead, the room seemed filled with squinty-eyed annoyance and an assumption that I didn’t know what degree of pressure they experienced. That moment where I thought we were going to shatter walls and share hearts became very quickly a place where this “old” teacher couldn’t possibly understand the trials of the teenage years. It left me a bit frustrated and desiring to divulge the various stresses I’ve had in life so as to try to earn a place in their eyes. But I didn’t do that because they seemed too fixated on their own problems, too entrapped in stress that formed their world. Too much cocooned in the belief that their value is earned, that they are good as their works, and that no love is better than disappointing the ones they love.
We wrapped up with an overview of the Argument from Desire. I asked them to consider that perhaps the desires they have for eternal happiness, unending love, innate value, intentional creation, purpose, identity, and union with loved ones aren’t things that will never be fulfilled. Maybe all of these desires they have, that we all have, can indeed be fulfilled. Not in this time or place, but in Heaven with God for all eternity. If we desire more than what earth has to offer, perhaps there actually is something more than this world.
Despite my typical pessimism, I am quite aware of the great longings of my heart and the desire I have for them to be fulfilled. Different conversations with my students force me to recognize that many of them are a bit more jaded, a bit less convinced that the longings they have will ever be satisfied, and a bit less aware of what they truly desire. It makes me want to love them better and give them a glimpse of the love the Father has for them. I want to be patient, kind, generous, loving, and humble. I want them to know that while the Lord cares about what they do, His love is not contingent on anything. His love for them will never waver or lessen or grow cold. I want them to be convinced of their value and know that it does not depend on being successful, rich, intelligent, or athletically gifted. Ultimately, I want them to encounter the fierce love of the Father and live out of the knowledge that they are His beloved child.
My challenge for you and for me: this week, try to intentionally reflect to others the goodness that lies within them, particularly the people you find it difficult to see it in because they probably need it the most.
Photo by Ingmar Hoogerhoud on Unsplash