My friend Abraham lives in Jericho, the oldest city in the world. He’s the sheik of his small village, which hugs a hillside just out of town. I met him several years ago on the road to the old city, and he became my adjunct tour guide, and then gracious host. When I stepped across the threshold of his modest ‘compound,’ I greeted his two wives and fourteen children. For an afternoon, nothing mattered more than trying to converse; he knew a few English words and I not a word of Arabic. But in the end, words were not necessary. We talked inches from each others nose, gesturing and getting across a message as old as time, “I love you.”
At one point he led me into his ‘office,’ a tin roofed shanty with no walls, and a rug in the center. He lifted the rug, and pulled from a hole a tin box that he laid gingerly on a table. He beckoned me forward, and as I peered over his shoulder, he was smiling with such pride, that I could only guess these were his treasures, valued items passed from one generation to another. It was an odd assortment of generally worthless articles. A goat skull, a flint, a knife, a candlestick and a medal of some sort with ribbon attached. He fondled each one, and told a story around why each was in his safe box.
Perhaps you have a safe box? I do. It’s filled with small rather worthless items, which remind me of important moments. There’s stuff that the kids gave me, and a few items that mark important milestones. We cherish what we accumulate in life, not for it’s essence, but for the life it represents. It’s the same with God.
Somewhere in heaven, He has a safe box. In it He holds us, and every other person in the world whose name is written there. We are His most valued treasure. In our essence, we are no more valuable than the chemicals that make us human. We are a goat skull. But because God has given us worth, we are therefore most cherished—a son, a daughter. Safe guarded.
When God opens the lid, He doesn’t see imperfections, insecurities, idiosyncrasies, pride, sin and a whole bundle of skewed motives, half-truths and shaky love. He doesn’t look at us as valuable because of who we are, but like the flint, or the goat skull, he cherishes us because in the story of ‘acquiring us,’ He puts value upon us. It’s what separates self-image, and our identity in Christ. In self-image we seek to see ourselves as valuable, in and of itself not a bad thing, but in focusing here, we can only get as far as our own nose, and never find ourselves even remotely satisfied. But if we focus from His point of view, we begin to see that our value is not intrinsic but concrete, the same way Abraham valued his objects. This has enormous consequence. The full payment of a perfect life poured out in death, and given to us, sealed with a promise from God that He would never throw us away.
As the afternoon waned, Abraham and I sought for words to try and convey how beautiful we saw one another. Love sat between us, a kind of respect, and humble deference which knitted us, kept us at home in each other’s space, and forged a link between His God and my Savior. When he put his treasures away, we parted. As I drove along the Dead Sea toward Ein Gedi, I remembered the pride on Abraham’s face as he hoisted each object from the box and extolled their virtue. This is how God feels about me, I thought, because He paid the ultimate price to put me there, to keep me safe.