Prior Value

multiple cultures

Ignoring the people around us every day is easy to do. We walk by so many people whom we don’t even see, let alone acknowledge—they just seem like part of the scenery. Can you imagine having this embarrassing conversation with another human being, created in the image of God, when you get to heaven?

You: “Hi! What’s your name? I don’t think I’ve met you before.”

Other Person: “I know who you are. I bagged your groceries (or fixed your car, cut your hair, or prepared your coffee) for years when we were on Earth.”

C.S. Lewis wrote that we nudge people toward one of two destinies by how we treat them. In The Weight of Glory, he explains how every contact with another human has a way of helping that person to one of two destinies:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal . . . It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors . . . . Our interactions with people are helping to nudge them toward one destiny or another . . . . Next to the blessed sacrament itself—your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

During my doctoral studies, I encountered attribution theory, which deals with the qualities we attribute to people either before we actually meet them or in the first moments after meeting them. Many times, this means giving negative attribution when we see something we don’t like—tattoos, long hair, dirty clothes, baggy jeans, or so forth. Even though my professor expressed dislike for the constant invention of new sociological terms, I decided to create one of my own: prior value placement.

Using this term, I refer to the human ability to consciously place a positive value on another person before even making contact with him or her. And we can certainly also do this in our first few moments of interacting for the first time with another human being. I believe that this principle is powerful enough to solve difficult problems such as ethnocentrism, prejudice, and racism. It is based on the foundational principle found in Genesis chapter one: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

This one short verse holds the key for horizontal human relationship problems, because it speaks of the inherent value and worth of every human being who will ever exist. How powerful to think that each human is a unique image-bearer of God! Indeed, humans are sacred, for we are intrinsically connected to the divine through creation. This single thought can change how we view—and how we treat—each person we meet in this life.

Another verse, this one from Revelation, the last book in the Bible, can change our attitude about people’s value as well. John writes in Revelation:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9–10)

If we can wrap our minds around the concluding big picture of history presented to us in this passage, we will change how we think about people. Because the citizenship of heaven will be made up of people from every ethnic and language group on the face of the Earth, there is no place for ignoring or snubbing anyone.

REFLECTIONS: What people do you regularly ignore and snub, treating as if they are part of the background scenery? List these people, but don’t stop at that—make a point of learning their names and beginning meaningful conversations with them.

 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language . . .

Revelation 7:9


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