Wealth = Worth and Worthiness?

My 18-month-old grandson, Russel, is running about our house today. After flying in from Austin Texas with his parents for Christmas, he now acts like he owns the place.

This morning, I had to put him in his place: “You know, Russell, since you own nothing and have next to nothing, aside from a few toys and hand-me-down clothes, you’re worthless!”

He laughed at me, and so I pressed my argument, hoping to win my case. “Seriously, let’s calculate your net worth. Never forget, my grandson: You are what you own in this world, and since you are the first-born child of a poor Ph.D. candidate, your father, and poor stay-at-home hairdresser, your mother, you are poor . . . practically worthless!”

He laughed at me again, so I next took my case to his parents: “You know, your son is worthless. He has no market value—no money, no possessions, no marketable skills—and so we can safely assume that he has no worth. Hence, your investment in him is utterly wasted.”

My daughter-in-law, Katie, is no student of the law, but her objection was strong, in the form of a song, as she sang a few lyrics from DreamWorks Animation’s Prince of Egypt:


How can you see what your life is worth or where your value lies?
You can never see through the eyes of man; you must look through heaven’s eyes!
A lake of gold in the desert sand is less than a cool fresh spring
and to one lost sheep, a shepard boy is greater than the richest king!
Should a man lose everything he owns, has he truly lost his worth?
Or is it the beginning of a new and brighter birth?
So, how do you measure the worth of a man in wealth or strength or size?
In how much he gained or how much he gave?

The answer comes to you to look at his life through heaven’s eyes!
(and singing to her son . . .)


And that’s why we share all we have with you, though there’s little to be found
when all you’ve got is nothing, there’s lots (of love) to go around!


            And my son, Chris, simply said, “Russell is of infinite worth.”


Why We Go from Infinite to Finite Worth

Okay, I lost my case. I admit that it was grounded in an absurd, though popular, notion:


Wealth = Worth


Yes, your social worth, and self-worth, is measured (at least by some) by your wealth.

So, what is the worth of my grandson, Russell?

Knowing something of the price that has been paid for him thus far, and of the immense investment his parents have made in him, I would agree with my son: He is priceless! His worth is infinite! And I agree with his mother: His value simply can’t be measured by any market or earthly means: it can only be seen “through Heaven’s eyes.”

Now, is this true only of Russel? Or, can we generalize to all his kin and cousins? To every human being? To every living thing? To every plant and animal?

Sadly, we esteem many a life (and living thing) to be worthless. We abort and kill at will. In commerce, we barter, buy and sell people in a manner akin to a slavery auction:

“And what do I hear for this fine specimen? $10 an hour!”

We tie the worth of their life and their work, their sweat and their toil, to time . . . to a ticking clock . . . and sell it cheap, or at least to the highest bidder, as if we were selling a sack of russet potatoes instead of a Jack, Russell or Joe!

So, why is it that in a mere score of years, the “infinite” worth of my grandson Russell may well be determined by his finite wealth, by his credit score, by his profession, house, wardrobe, money or car? In the musical Cabaret, we hear these cynical lyrics:

Money makes the world go around
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around,
That clinking clanking sound
Can make the world go ’round.

So, we may feel that our wealth defines our individual worth: we are worth what we own or possess.  Our self-worth is closely tied to our financial worth.  Our money attracts our honey.


Honey, All I Want for Christmas Is Money

Seemingly we all want for Christmas from our honey is more money. We deeply desire to be wealthy, or at least appear to be wealthy, to have lots of money, to not worry about finances, to have a nice home, car and lifestyle; to travel and vacation in style; to buy our children all that they might want and more, always more.

I confess: I’m dumb as dirt when it comes to money. Yes, I (Kenny or Ken Shelton), admit to being penny-wise but yen (and pound and dollar) stupid, at least in comparison with many others. I recall how some of my friends from grade school and junior high seem to have been born with a talent for numbers, money and finances. In contrast, I was clueless, and penniless. Right out of high school, I tended idiots at the Utah state institution for $1.50 per hour. I washed dishes in a 140-degee kitchen in Zion National Park for $1.25 per hour. I got married on a job teaching Spanish to missionaries for $1.75 per hour. My first full time job out of BYU was teaching English and Journalism to 220 teens at Provo High for $6,600 a year—and that gross sum was my gross income! May take-home pay could not buy a bone, let alone a home.


Does Wealth Also Define Our Worthiness?

Okay, if you think wealth = worth is a wrong summation, how about this equation:


Wealth = Worthiness


This postulation ties not just your worth but your very worthiness as a human being—before men and God and kings—your right to live, breathe and sing to your sum of wealth.

And so, your wealth may be considered a mirror reflection of the worthiness of your soul.  Your estimated worthiness before men and God may hang in the balance of your bank account. Your standing, esteem, and value may be grounded in an absurd, though popular, notion that without money and means you are nothing: you are poor in spirit and merit. Since God prospers the righteous with money, your poverty is a sure sign of His penalty for your sins, your unworthiness, for blessed are the worthy with wealth; cursed are the unworthy with deserved poverty as Social Class = Financial Mass!

With money, we see ourselves differently. Others see us differently. We attend better schools, clubs, churches, universities, and social circles. Our circle of friends becomes a list of who’s who . . . brand names one and all. We can buy and build impressive stuff. We have purchase power.  Everyone caters to us, waits on us, serves us and bows to us.

So, what proof do we have that the “poor” may also be worthy of some blessing?

Proof 1. When inflation priced me out of owning a home in the Heber valley (Utah), I took to the Midway hills. Unable to afford a home in town, we purchased a small summer cabin in the mountains. At least we had a partial view of the valley, enough to see sparkling lights at night from the very homes we had hoped to own “one day” (our view of the valley below was partially blocked by three big pine trees that shared a common trunk).

One day, a few years ago, we drove to our cabin only to find it enveloped in pine tree trunks and branches. The left and right pines were blown down by a strong wind, and both big trees missed falling on the cabin by a foot—one on the left side and the other on the right side.

I count it a blessing, as evidence, measured in geometric angles, that God’s angels can go before us, and be on our left side and right side, and that He who has the great gift of the Spirit in this life, and the greatest gift of eternal life, is rich beyond measure.

Proof 2. Perhaps the pine tree anecdote is further proof of the Pythagorean theorem or equation: a2 + b2 = c2  {\displaystyle a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2},}where c represents the length of the hypotenuse and a and b the lengths of the triangle’s other two sides. My own Pine-thagorean theorem is this: the hypothesis that Wealth = Worth and Worthiness is equal to the sum of all “square” theories. That may be Greek to you, but it speaks volumes to me when the pine trunks fall to the two sides of the cabin.

Proof 3. Two years ago, I lost my 30-year-old business; my “cash cow” was killed by internal fraud and embezzlement. I’m now working alone in my basement as a “penny-a-page” copy writer—seemingly worthless and unworthy. But I do have a loving wife, a good life, children and grandchildren, steak and potatoes, car, home and cabin. I feel wealthy and worthy.

After all, the more accurate equations in life might be:

Wealth = Health

Worthiness = Holiness

Degree of glory in infinity = Degree of difficulty in mortality


This refrain reminds me that my loss is not in vain:


Should a man lose everything he owns, has he truly lost his worth?
Or is it the beginning of a new and brighter birth?


If Russell, my grandson, can own nothing and still be considered of “infinite worth”, maybe Grandpa can be worth something too in his new and brighter birth.

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