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The Question of Dignity

David_whirls_with_all_his_might_before_t Is God impressed with our dignity?  This is the question that's been haunting me since yesterday.  In Jesus' parable of the lost son (Luke 15.11-32), we read that when the son came to his senses and returned home, that "while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (v.20). Such running was considered undignified and shameful. But love seemed to guide this father more than his dignity. 

Pentecost3That thought triggered others from both Testaments: David dancing with all his might before the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6), and the new believers -- thought to be drunk -- on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.1-16ff).

As my own journey has led me closer to orthodoxy, I'm wondering: where does dignity fit in?  In my charismatic past, I often noticed how a person's sense of "dignity" (mixed with pride?) would keep them from being open with God -- in honesty, in expressions of worship -- and with one another. But maybe it's not the dignity, per se, that's the problem, but rather our "holding on to it" that trips us up.

In each of the the passages I've mentioned, there seems to be an element of spontanaeity.  Is it then our willingness to be spontaneous, when we feel moved, that breaks us free from our dignity?  Or is there (as I suspect), much more going on?

I welcome your thoughts.


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The orient is famous for its forms of hospitality and maintaining dignity. If dignity is the right to be treated with respect and appreciation than I think God is very much in favor of such a right.

I cannot expect everyone to grant me this right; the reality is often just the opposite. Yet God grants this very right to both sons in the parable. He treats both of them with dignity. Nor does He worry about His dignity in the emotion filled return.

When dignity is a false sense of protection, a mask, a facade to maintain ones place or stature, then it has become just another quick fix for our emotional black hole.

The way Jesus portrays the Father in this story is nothing short of amazing and full of grace. Nothing but grace, in all its power.

Bailey's books Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes have shown this to be the greatest treasure in the Bible when it comes to knowing God's love and being treated wtih dignity, even dignity we do not deserve.

As usual, you ask interesting questions and provoke new thoughts. I can think of several examples in which Jesus restored the dignity of men and women who were marginalized by their condition: touching the leper to heal him; stopping for the blind man beside the road and asking him "what would you like me to do for you?", and others.

In these cases, there is more than compassion at work. God lifts up the man or woman and restores their dignity along with their health.

I do observe that sometimes my sense of dignity (pride?) causes me to restrict my faith to the realm of the intellectual and not at all the emotional, usually out of fear that I will respond to God in some scandalous way. It's another area of yielding to God that needs work.

Hi Chris-

We met (briefly) at the bloggers lunch at Emergent in SD.

GREAT thoughts. I've never pondered the idea of dignity very much. One question for you: "Is it possible to have dignity without pride?"

I'll leave you with that for now...


Hey J.R. -- good to hear from you.

"Is it possible to have dignity without pride?" Well, if Charlie is right (and I think he is), then there are "... several examples in which Jesus restored the dignity of men and women who were marginalized by their condition: touching the leper to heal him; stopping for the blind man beside the road and asking him "what would you like me to do for you?", and others."

The woman caught in adultry, the woman at the well, the widow from Nain -- these are a few more I'd add to Charlie's list.

I guess a related question to yours would be: is human dignity part of the imago Dei? In some sense, can we say that God has dignity? My hunch is that people would have no problem affirming that "the notion of God being without dignity is unacceptable." What do you think?

We have no real dignity outside what God grants us after we are born again. There is no dignity to be found in depravity. The potential for dignity is always there, and perhaps that is what God sees in us before we join the household of faith, but like a cup marred on the potter's wheel we cannot walk in fulness of life (including genuine godly dignity) unless the potter remakes us.

Great post, it has really got me to thinking. I even got my dictionary out. Dignity is deserving esteem and respect. People struggle each day to earn the respect of someone important in their lives. I was just talking today with a high school student whom has completely changed his look and dress over the last 6 months in an effort to gain the respect of a certain group of friends. David dancing with all of his might and the new believers at Pentecost were obvoiusly not concerned with earning the respect of others. They realized there is no dignity apart from a life devoted to Jesus. I pray that the young man I was talking to today will soon realize this.

Definitely much more going on... I think that we confuse our definition of 'dignity' with God's definition of 'dignity'. I somehow think He sees it much differently than we do. What could be more dignified in His eyes than our worship of Him exactly as He moves us at any particular moment in any particular place? Dignity as defined by human language is a far cry from the dignity of pure worship... in whatever form God moves us to.

Thanks for a thought-provoking question!

Most movies on Jesus (even Mel's Passion) portray Jesus enduring torture and death with profound dignity, as if God could be murdered and humiliated but losing his dignity would be a betrayal of his divine nature.

God's love is undignified. The examples you cite are dead on. What then, does that mean for the church and how we share God's love with the world?

Grace and peace,


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