I was recently given the privilege of addressing the student body for Speaker’s Week during the Fall 2018 semester at Murrieta. I took the opportunity to explore the topic of human identity, a subject that has huge implications, both culturally and personally. This blog post will try and distill a few of the main points from these talks.
Who am I? Just three words, or six letters make up this question. Yet the attempts to find a satisfying answer have produced enough letters to fill countless libraries. To answer the question of who we are, we also need to ask what we are? What does it mean to be human? Do we have a grand purpose, an end game towards which our lives are heading?
The search for identity and meaning is a theme that has occupied the mind of human beings for millennia. It has filled the pages of our art and drama, our songs and poems – As King Lear cried out in Shakespeare’s play “Does anyone here know who I am? … Who can tell me who I am?”1
In Psalm 8 King David is musing about existence as he gazes into the night sky. He then asks a question about humanity:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
David looks at the heavens and the vastness of the universe and ponders what God must be like to create such a place. He sees the transience of man in comparison to the eternal God and asks why one so great would concern himself with man?
It is also a question that receives equal attention by those who claim no religious proclivities. All over the globe today top universities are holding conferences and seeking answers from the brightest minds about what it means to be human. Philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, biologists, sociologists and ethicists have all attempted to answer this question. Yet why is it that no consistent answer can be found? It seems odd that humans have been on this planet for so long, yet we still cannot even answer this fundamental question. For centuries debate has raged in the culture around these issues.
Perhaps the sharpest divide has been between those who claim to find answers from within a theistic framework, that is, one which accepts the existence of God, and those who reject God. As polarised as these two sides may be, there is no denying that these questions are being raised. The internet search engine Ask Jeeves compiled a list of what it called the top 10 “unanswerable” questions of the past decade. The list was based on some 1.1 billion queries made on the site. Fascinatingly, the question ranked at number one was, “What is the meaning of life?” with question number two being, “Is there a God?” People are searching for meaning and it seems we have a natural propensity to seek this meaning in some transcendent cause outside of ourselves. Most people understand that the reality of God would provide a transcendent meaning to their lives.
Of course, without God there is no transcendent being to endow our lives with any ultimate meaning or purpose. As the atheist Bertrand Russell put it:
“That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms”.2
Why does it matter what makes us human? Well you see, what is true of us collectively impacts us individually. The understanding of who we are as humans, either a random collection of atoms, or a uniquely designed creature, forms the foundation of our identity.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes these words:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
We were made with eternity in our hearts, that is, we are specifically intended to find our ultimate meaning and fulfilment by living in accord with what we have been designed for – to live in relationship with God.
Finding our true identity is tied up with answering the question which Jesus first asked his disciple Peter, but it is the same question he requires everyone to answer today:
“Who do you say that I am?” Matthew 15:16
Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It was upon this expression of Peter’s faith that Jesus said he would build the church. The foundation of the church is a recognition of the true identity of Jesus.
This is crucial. If you have answered that same question in a similar way, then your position and your identity are, like Peter’s, totally entwined with him. It is more beautiful than any self-conceived image or identity fashioned in this world could ever be.
In the end my hope is that you will be able to see that the identity Jesus offers is the only one that matters. Jesus himself highlights this point when he says;
“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” John 18:37
The truth is that God made this world to be inhabited by us (Isaiah 45:18), he created man for his glory (Isaiah 43:6-7), in order to enjoy Him forever (Psalm 16:11). He is the author of life (Acts 3:15) and therefore the only one that can give us a truthful description of who we are (Romans 3:23). He knows us intimately (Matthew 10:30), he cares for us immeasurably (John 10:13), loves us unconditionally (Romans 5:8) and offers us an abundant life (John 10:10). Such a life can only be achieved by living in relationship with the one who made us. This can only be achieved by correctly answering the question: who do you say that I am?
That is the TRUTH!
1. Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Act 1 Scene 4. Accessed online at http://nfs.sparknotes.com/lear/page_64.html
2. Russell, Bertrand. Mysticism and Logic: including a Free Man’s Worship. London: Unwin Paperbacks. 1986. pp. 10-11