The most popular title for poems written by UK school students is, “Who am I?” Sadly, the question arises so much because many do not know the answer. In our modern world, identity is a smorgasbord of attributes, self-selected, constructed with no boundaries and limited moral clarity.
When the answer to a question is “anything you like,” it’s the same as saying “nothing at all.” Perhaps this is one reason why my generation is the most depressed and anxious in our history. Most of us labour under the confusion and tyranny of not knowing.
So, the question is asked continuously. Indeed, the word “identity” has increased in English publications by nearly 700 per cent since 1950, with most of that increase since 1985. It roughly follows the rise of modern psychology.
We find ourselves here because we have chosen a false foundation for the answer. We have decided that “who am I?” is a question about our inner self, to be answered by self-exploration and self-discovery. It is nurtured with self-love and self-esteem. It is lived out in self-ideation.
One only has to read the resources floating around the school system to see immediately that this is so. Children are continually told that they are “enough,” their dreams are worthy, and their desires are good. I heard it said by one educator that we all have a “melody” in ourselves which the world “needs”.
I suspect the world could have done without Stalin’s “melody,” but I digress.
Compare Jesus’ words about the self, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
Also compare his description of those to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs – the poor in spirit. Those who know, in themselves, that they have only self-poverty (Matthew 5:3).
Romans 1 speaks of a fundamental human impulse, to serve creature rather than Creator (Romans 1:25). The ultimate expression of that is self-worship over God worship. It answers the question, “who am I?” and therefore the whole character of my life, by looking within, not by looking up.
Ask instead, “Who is God?” and the rest will answer itself.
Romans 1 further explains that this false foundation enslaves a person to all that rises from within, that Jesus described so starkly. Alas, we are condemning our newest generation to misery, not to mention resistance to the gospel which confronts us with our sin.
This issue weighs on me, not just because of my involvement with young people, but because it is now informing public policy. Everything from laws against offending people on identity grounds, through to ‘conversion therapies’ legislation which will not permit external standards to shape someone’s inner passions.
It strikes me that Scripture never attempts to answer the identity question without relying on God. Right from the start, we are made in God’s image, mirroring something of who he is in the holy perfection of Eden.
So, the answer to the question on the modern tongue, “Who am I?” is “no.” That is to say, “wrong question.”
Ask instead, “Who is God?” and the rest will answer itself. We were made in His image. The revelation of who he is defines who we ought to be.
Of course, Jesus was that revelation – “… Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Martyn Iles is Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby.