Perhaps the biggest quest of human existence is each man's effort to achieve validation. By validation I mean the establishment of personal worth and subsequent satisfaction. This search for validation is central to understanding all human behaviors.
Generally, feeling worthy and satisfied involves recognition, appreciation, and perhaps respect from other human beings. Thus we hear much discussion about the desire to be respected. The psychologists tell us incessantly that self respect is vital to a healthy state of mind.
As an outgrowth of this innate, powerful personal search for validation, we routinely witness people seeking material success as the route to that goal. Thus, for many, the workplace becomes the arena where personal worth is supposedly established. Bigger job titles and more and more money signal achievement and worth. Because of the perceived essentiality of competitiveness in following this pathway, the validation process unavoidably leaves many feeling less valid as they witness the success of others. There can be no winners in the struggle for this type worth without relegating others to loss. As has been noted forever, seeking satisfaction through the accumulation of material wealth is never totally successful. The latest achievement or acquisition merely fans the desire for more and more, until ultimately the string of achievements is broken by failure, economically, medically, psychologically or whatever. Most of us probably know the futility of feeling totally satisfied with ourselves through economic success, but its allure is so, so powerful.
A closely akin aspect of humankind's search for fulfillment is our attempt to gain recognition and respect. In this regard, many pursue activities and careers which they perceive as lending publicity, influence, reputation, emulation, and even notoriety. Careers allied with pop culture, such as the entertainment field or professional athletics, are therefore highly envied and sought, being both lucrative and highly visible.
Some seek their worthiness in the field of politics, hoping to achieve recognition and influence as well as economic advancement. This approach to validation is particularly seductive because it can be pursued as a supposedly sacrificial activity, i.e. public service, while advancing all the other aspects of perceived validation mentioned earlier. The elected official must be successful over an opponent, he must be deemed worthy by his fellow citizens, and after being elected, he or she is empowered to lead and rule over the majority, some of whom will reward him or her for the benefit of close association. Involvement in the practice of government at all levels has almost always generated economic advantage for those governing, as history demonstrates.
Within the spectrum of human activities described above, Jesus came on the world scene 2000 years ago to speak to humanity through His interaction with the Jewish people about the subject of validation. He and the New Testament authors, used a variety of different terms to describe and address the various aspects of the validation process. In His lifestyle and His words Jesus drew a sharp contrast between what mankind had been doing in search of validation throughout its history and what brought real validation. His lessons fell largely on deaf ears in His day because they were so at odds with the prevailing religious thought and cultural norms of that age. The human ego sought a warrior solution to the gnawing sense of inadequacy which the Jews felt as subordinates to the Roman hierarchy. Jesus was not the warrior king that the Jews wanted and expected, based on the validation process ingrained in them and the rest of humanity. Material success, religious success, and military success- these were thought to be the proper and only means to personal and by extension national fulfillment.
The example of Jesus could not support the prevailing ideas and assumptions of His day. In like manner, Jesus cannot be reasonably construed as verifying the prevalent ideas and assumptions of our day either. We still seek, unsuccessfully as most of us would admit, personal validation and worth the same way the Jews did when Jesus was on earth. Despite the lessons and lifestyle of Jesus, we still allow our religious thoughts and traditions to reject the counter intuitiveness of Jesus' proclaimed method of validation. While loudly claiming our longstanding reverence for Jesus, we adamantly and destructively pursue our own way, rejecting all the He taught and so powerfully exemplified.
When Jesus so pointedly rejected the normal approach to validation, He proclaimed the supremacy of love as the proper and only possible way to live and be fulfilled. He drew on the example of human relationships to highlight the transformative power of love. Of course, in our culture there is much debate and confusion about what love really means. To many of us, love is something that must be earned, much like everything else which the human ego has convinced us leads to our validation. So in effect our popular concept of love turns the teaching of Jesus on its ear. The love that Jesus taught was not the product of our efforts to be worthy of that love. Notice the people Jesus sought out for company. Were they worthy of His love in our normal understanding? Did they earn His love by meeting all His expectations of them, the disciples for instance? No, the worthiness bestowed by Jesus was not earned by personal achievement, it was granted unconditionally by the very act of loving. The love of Jesus and by extension the love of the Father are the ultimate validation of all humanity's worth.
The euphoria which many of us have experienced in a human relationship is merely a foretaste of the joy and fulfillment we should enjoy in realizing the certainty and efficacy of God's unconditional love for each of us. Love says it all, does it all; nothing else can match or replace it. Jesus knew it. Jesus taught it. We just need to believe it.
The surest and most powerful form of validation should come from our identity as children of God. However, as long as we adhere to the idea that we gain God's love and maintain His approval by right practice (right doctrine, right rituals, pious living, etc.), we will endure uncertainty in life and in death. Nothing that depends on human accomplishment can be certain.
Those who claim to believe in acceptance by right practice may deny any uncertainty in this belief, but I suspect most would admit that achieving worthiness in God's eyes by proper conduct does not lend a totally assured outcome. There are just too many issues involved which leave too much room for doubt. Where God's love should ideally be the ultimate source of validation, we instead experience a renewed sense of inadequacy and unease. Being the object of God's Love should impart a sense of worth and awe, but the conditional type of divine love we have been taught just cannot fill our need. Only a I Corinthians 13 kind of Love, unconditional and totally the result of God's nature and promise, can validate and fulfill mankind in the way we all crave. Anything less is a chimera, a false hope, and not in keeping with the One whose mercy endureth forever.