There are many things that make the Gospel the “good news.” The one with which I have struggled often and with varying degrees of success is that of identity. Why is this important, you might ask? Let me answer your question Socrates style: is it not? Is it not true that your whole life up until now (unless you have grasped this aspect of the Gospel) has been spent trying to establish you identity? No? Ok, well then, I guess I will just talk about myself.
Recently I have been surprised with how insecure I am. At a simple word or gesture, I have felt my whole being called into question. Am I really a good doctor/medical student? Do I really love Jesus? Do I really have what it takes to be a surgeon? Do people even really like me, or are they just putting up a front? Is my life going to mean anything in the end, or am I spinning my wheels and taking up oxygen? These are the kinds of questions that can crush a person. I know. I have felt their weight bearing down on me. And the truth is, I don’t have the answers, and neither do you. All this new-age “look inside yourself for the meaning of your life and who you are meant to be” is, in the end, hollow hallmark-card fluff. Why? Not because it’s not a nice idea, but because it crumbles under the weight of reality. If I look inside myself to find my meaning, all I really find are those same questions glaring back at me. Those questions came from inside of me. How can I go to the same place to find their answers?
We have to look outside of ourselves. We all intrinsically know this, and unfortunately, this is where most of us get into trouble. Step one: look outside of myself to find out who I am—check. Step two: where to look—uh-oh. We don’t know, so we just start guessing. Maybe if I become a world-famous fill-in-the-blank. If random strangers know my name, that will give me an identity, right? Maybe if I get married then my wife will tell me who I am. Yeah, that’s it. Or maybe if my kids become professional athletes. Oh, I’ve got it. Maybe I will work 90 hours a week to impress a bunch of people I don’t really like to get a position I don’t really want to make a bunch of money I won’t have the time or energy to spend. No? Then I’ll just go out, get drunk, and have sex. That’ll definitely give me an identity (it will, by the way…just not one you would want to talk about in front of you grandma). For me, it looks like this: “maybe if everyone likes me, I become a surgeon from a good academic program, I get an attractive, witty wife, and I do a bunch of spiritual/humanitarian stuff for the rest of my life, maybe then I will be happy and fulfilled and I will earn God and everyone else’s love. Maybe then I will be somebody” I’m not saying any of those things are bad (you know, except the getting drunk, sleeping around, idolizing your wife…actually, nevermind…some of those things are definitely bad) it’s just that they will not provide the identity you or I are looking for. In fact, looking for your identity in each of those things will wreck you, and if those things are people, you will crush them. Wanna know why? Because they were never meant to hold the weight of you identity. It is simply too heavy. Why do you think it is that people get married and divorced so often in our culture? Why do famous people with beautiful wives and beautiful lives commit suicide? Could it be because those things simply do not give us meaning?
I know I’m not really blazing any new trails here, but the point is important: if we can’t find identity within ourselves, and we can’t find it in the people and activities around us, where then is it to be found? The answer: as an adopted child of the Living God. That answer too churchy for you? Too bad. Have fun trying those other options. You see, the reality is that the weight of our identity is eternal. That’s why no finite thing can bear it. You are going to live forever, like it or not. Everything on this earth ends in 80 years, give or take. Is it really a wonder that we find them so…limited? We were created. You may not like that fact, but it’s true. We are not the Eternal Creator. Therefore, we cannot find our created identity outside of the One who created it. We weren’t meant to define our own identity. That’s why we cause train wrecks every time we try our hand at it. I wasn’t created to be a surgeon. God wasn’t sitting up in Heaven thinking, “You know what I need…another guy who finds ultimate joy and fulfillment in cutting holes in my creation.” He just wasn’t. That’s why I feel so insecure when I try to put my identity in that: it is, by definition, not secure. I could loose both my hands tomorrow. What then? I would have no identity. Yet this is how most of us live our lives, Christians and Non-Christians alike. We seek to be defined by what we do and what we have here and now. God invites us in the Gospel to be defined by what He did and what we have in Him. The difference is subtle, but important. On the one hand, we can put an eternal weight on a finite support, resulting in the chaos and destruction of ourselves and said support when it (inevitably) collapses, or, we can put an eternal weight on an eternal support, and find that it is safe and secure, with no risk of failing or faltering.
In my adoption into God’s family, I am safe to say that no matter what my life comes to, no matter if I get married or die single, no matter if I become a world-renown missionary or a quadriplegic, who I am and who I am loved and accepted by remains unchanged. I will receive God’s love and acceptance, not because of how awesome I am, but because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, unchangeable and eternal. I was adopted when I was an orphan and an enemy, and it was Him that adopted me. He picked me, not the other way around. If He picked me, He has already said all I need to know about who I am and what my worth is. This is a hope from which life can spring. If you don’t define who I am, I am free from needing to manipulate you to make me feel worthwhile. If where I do my residency doesn’t define who I am, then I am free to love the people I work with rather than trying to tear them down so I can get ahead and build my resume. And if my performance doesn’t define who I am, I am free to spend my life loving God instead of trying to prove to Him that I deserve His love.
This is the hope of the Gospel: we can stop seeking our own identity, leaving behind us a trail of broken hearts and lives, and start seeking His Kingdom and His Glory, which will bring us the identity that we sought in the first place. May we have the courage to cast our faith on the Rock, even when we are sure it will shatter us in the process.
In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All-in-All
Here in the love of Christ I stand