Over the last few years on my journey of following Jesus, I have encountered a (for me) newly emerging theme: That most of the truth behind faith, sin, and human choice is really about my identity.
Here’s what I mean… at the core of faith is not a central list of doctrines to be believed. Faith, hope, and love are not based on greater emotions that are beamed to us from God. They are not gleaned from navel-gazing wisdom. At the rock-bottom of Christian faith, I am convinced, is this fact: I am who God says I am.
Sin, or deviation from God’s path, is when I try to base my identity on something other than God. This was reinforced again in Keller’s book The Reason For God (I’m on my second reading):
“Defining sin this way, we can see several ways that sin destroys us personally. Identity apart from God is inherently unstable. Without God our sense of worth may seem solid on the surface, but it NEVER is – it can desert you in a moment. For example, if I build my identity on being a good parent, I have no true ‘self’ – I am just a parent – nothing more. If something goes wrong with my children or my parenting, there is no solid ‘me’ left… when something threatens my identity I become not only anxious, but paralyzed with fear. Loss at someone else’s hands creates not just resentment, but bitterness. Only if your identity is built on who God says you are, says Kierkegaard, can you have a true self… and there is no way to avoid this insecurity outside of God. Even if you say ‘I will not build my happiness or significance on any one thing other than me, you will be basing your identity on your personal freedom and independence. If anything threatens that, you will be without a self.” (pp164-165)
In the same vein, author Neil Anderson asserts that all addictions and addictive behaviors are the culmination of identities based on other things… the natural consequence of creating an identity based on an appetite.
This is still unfolding for me but it is having foundational impact: the hope of life is that I AM who God says I am… that restoration to my true self, and all of creation for that matter, is not in question. That all that was robbed, stolen, or corrupted within me does not define who I am, or my existence. Instead, God’s declaration of my identity – and in fact the identity of all creation – is the rock-bottom of existence, and the source to which all of creation is returning.
That means this broken world – all of the evil, the pain, and the corruption – is not the ultimate reality. My identity, both philosophically and phenomenologically, is grounded in what ANOTHER says is the true me. And my Hope (not as in wish, but as in an assured yet future event) is the restoration to that true identity. This means that most of what it has historically meant to be human – the struggle with meaning and identity – does no longer apply… because My Dad has already given me a name that will never change. When all else shifts, this will not. And just because the reality I perceive around me at times does not match this promise/declaration does not mean the Truth of that identity is bad… simply that my perception of this reality is tarnished by the corruption inherent in it. And one day all of those corrupted and stolen things WILL be restored. My identity will not change, but will one day be in harmony with my surroundings.