Who are you?… How do people describe you? How many comments or likes do you get on your posts? Where do you live, what do you do, how old are you? What’s your family like? What’s your favourite song? Do you always look this good?
Is this who you are?…
Who are you? This question, as far as I can tell, must be the easiest and yet most difficult question to answer in the history of questions that need answering. The default answer to “Who are you?” is ____________(insert name). I’m Nick, nice to meet you.
Perhaps you’ve heard somebody push back on that answer: “That’s just your name, I want to know who you are!”
How do you answer that? I could say I’m a pastor, but that’s just my vocation. I’m a dad and a husband… but those answers also seem to lack something. The whole of my identity is not summed up in “dad”, “husband”, or “pastor”. It’s not summed up in describing my hobbies or telling my life-story either. There’s really no sufficient way to sum up who we are. So, how can we discover our identity?
Oswald Bayer, a German theologian and professor, as well as the quote I tweeted above, makes the following observation,
There is no such thing as an autocratic individual, totally independent of the surrounding world and its recognition. The individual is always socially formed.
Is this true? Ask yourself, “am I a product of outside influences?” The inescapable answer is yes. Sociologists build their careers on this fact, and aim to explain it. We are, at least partially, products of our surroundings. This is not to say identity is purely formed by those around us. But our identities seems to find clarity in the context of our surroundings. “We live by the word given and heard.” Bayer continues,
Who am I?… Am I what others say about me? Am I what I know about myself? Am I balanced between these different evaluations? Questions such as these relate to my inner being, not just to something external. They affect the core, not the shell. It is not true that judgment is an addition to being. What I am, I am in my judgment about myself, intertwined with the judgment made of me by others. Person is a ‘forensic term.’
A “forensic term” is one that is defined in the public square. We hear about “forensics” in the context of people whose job is to observe evidence and make judgments.
If “person” is a forensic term–if my identity has to do with judgments about me, which judge do we trust? Bayer suggested that we make judgments about ourselves, and people make judgments about us. Can we trust these judges, ourselves and/or others?
In other words, learning who we are depends on how we and the world around us interact with one another. So, what do we learn as we observe the evidence? How do we react to the various situations and circumstances we find ourselves in? Can it be put into just a few words?
At least for me, it can’t be. So how do we start the process of learning our identity, figuring it out–putting it into words.
We need a starting point. We need somewhere that isn’t changing, somewhere that is true, to start from. We need some degree of concreteness to compare our experiences with, to help us properly observe the evidence.
What, or who, is constant, unchanging, concrete? Where do we start from?
Some folks start with family, some with their job, some with where they live. They measure their life experiences by what their family went through, or how things work at the job, in school, or in the neighbourhood. More than likely part of your starting point has an online component. Much of our lives revolve around Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other social network platforms.
In all these places where we try to start, we hear lots of voices. Many of them are conflicting. Perhaps the voices we’re hearing are ones we’re trying to influence. Maybe we’re starting with the comments on our Facebook page. Do we not try and word things in a particular way, to receive the best sort of comment? Maybe it’s your Instagram page. Maybe you set up the table just right so that the picture gives off the right vibe, to get the most likes. Perhaps you look in the mirror and give yourself pep talks. Perhaps you have an inner dialogue with your conscience about how you are actually a good person, who did the right thing, and has people who love them. Maybe these are true of you and you don’t even realize it. The voices are from others, they’re from us, and they have something in common: they are pronouncing judgments to us, about us.
So again, the question remains, which judge do we trust? Can you trust others? Yourself?
We need the judge that will not only love us, but tell us the honest-to-God truth. We also need the judge that will not only tell us the truth, but love us unconditionally.
Tim Keller once put it this way,
Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.
Who can both tell us the honest-to-God truth and love us unconditionally?
To really do both requires a special kind of person with special kinds of words. That person is God, and that Word is His very Son, Jesus Christ.
God loves us perfectly, and tells us the truth about who we are, and who He is. He does this through words, and ultimately through His Son, Jesus Christ. The truth about us is this: we were made in the image of God, with more value than we will ever know, but we became broken from our sin; we’re in need of saving. The truth about God is this: He is our Maker, and He loves us so much, in spite of our sin, that He sent Jesus to live the perfect life we could never live and die the death we should die from our sin, and calls us to trust Him above all else. God says that when we trust in Him, in what Jesus has done for us, the guilt of our sins and brokenness is put on Christ, and the perfection, beauty, holiness, and righteousness of Jesus is put on us. We are united with Him, and made new. This happens when, and because, God says so.
So trust God’s Word today. Your identity, through Jesus, can be Justified. You can be Declared Right. You can be made New. You are loved by the God who made you and sent His Son to save you.
In Christ, that’s the answer to “Who Are You?” and He is the only Judge of your identity that you can truly trust.
So, trust Him today.
by pastor nick.