In the Matter of Identity
January 27, 2021
But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
- Isaiah 43:1-3a
For the last three or four days, I’ve tried to think of something profound and wise to say, but apparently, I’m not very profound or wise. When the clock hit midnight on December 31 heralding the end of 2020, my neighborhood exploded in cheers and fireworks, noticeably more than in prior celebrations, as if somehow this hour would be better than the last. You have to admire that kind of optimism, not that I’m particularly optimistic about the coming year or ten. I am, however, tired of being pessimistic.
More than at any time in my life, our nation is so deeply polarized that no grounds for commonality are apparent. We have two accounts of national history, two different desirable outcomes for education, two opposing visions of the future, and two separate views of human beings – the purpose and meaning of human life, and on and on. We are inhabiting two completely dissimilar and incompatible worlds. These are competing narratives of America and American identity. I don’t have an answer, although I wish I did. It’s sad. America once was great, a beacon of freedom and opportunity. Even if I had an answer, I’m not sure anything can be said that everyone would understand, so deep are the differences in the way life is perceived.
Many years ago, when I was just entering ministry, a friend and colleague asked me how I was reconciling Christianity to womanhood. How did I intend or expect to be Christian as a woman? At the heart of his question was the issue of identity. In his mind, there were two identities involved, that of Christian and that of woman, with physicality presumed to be the primary criterion of my being, of me. As I understood it then, and as I understand it now, one is either a Christian or not, and whatever else one might be – Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free – is secondary to that. The only way to be Christian as a woman is the same way everyone else is Christian – seeking to know and to follow Jesus sincerely, but a bit hypocritically, (somewhat) humbly before seemingly insurmountable sin, and gratefully in the absence of any true merit.
These days, American culture is wholly invested in individual identity, whether identity is established through commerce or through progress. That is what is at stake in the competing narratives – human identity. Over the last few decades, a matrix of identities started ranking Americans according to all sorts of conditions in contemporary America, and all of these conditions are physical in nature – race, gender, health, wealth, who one wants to have sex with, and on and on. With the ascendency of this “identity matrix”, for lack of a better term, the lowest life form is white men. The way things are going, I am relatively confident that, pretty soon now, we will be able to discern that white men are responsible for every known wrong in human history.
The one common denominator in this obsession over identity is the solely material quality of the measures, which was the basis of my friend’s question. Even the living of Christian life is subject to physical being. We have elevated the material world to the exclusion of the spiritual. Irrespective of what one claims to believe, life itself is limited to the here and now with no higher good than the self. To put it starkly, I am a woman, and because I am, my womanhood will decide what I’m willing to accept from Jesus – as well as what I am free to reject. When this life ends, Jesus will need to adapt eternity to my wishes.
The nature of being fallen, the essence of pride, is that we would know best for ourselves and can be our own god. In the current national identity crisis, we were asked to choose between economics and progress, neither of which acknowledge Jesus Christ in any particular way, much less serve or glorify Him. Both are fully immersed in the material world. The primary difference between the two is that economics (or commerce) does not particularly care about the state of the human soul, while progress refuses to accept that we have a soul. We can buy ourselves the life and personhood we want – from homes and cars, to permanent youth and impermanent gender, to charitable giving to your church. Progress, though, requires that we leave God behind entirely and allow the government to decide who merits what among human beings. Either way, the nature of human life is reduced to our most basic and animalistic urges, the result being that human beings are little more than greedy, lusty, evolved amoebas full of anger and subject to our passions. This is the glory we have chosen for ourselves.
Christian, this is not who we are. You are more than a physical body with physical demands and needs. You have passed through the waters of Baptism to rise with Christ (Rom. 6:3-5), and the living flame of the Holy Spirit rests on you (Acts 2:3). You are the child of the Most High God. That is your identity. Lift up your head, give thanks, and do not be afraid. The Lord Who created you and formed you has called you by name. Already, You belong to Him, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. Whatever comes with the sunrise, the Lord will be there with you, guiding you, directing you, saving you.
For the first time in most of our lives, our identity as Christians is seen, not simply as something stupid, but as a threat. That is because Christians do not bow before government leaders, nor does Christianity allow for self-identification based on physical characteristics. In short, Christianity challenges the most cherished convictions of our culture, establishing identity in Christ Jesus Himself, not in our passions, our greed, or our imaginations. Come what may in the future, we can know two things with certainty: first, our God is active and involved, even if we cannot see or understand, and second, He is with us in every circumstance.
Sitting around and watching or reading the news is not going to change the news, but it will change us. The comments sections reveal a viciousness in public discourse that does not bode well for the nation’s future. Our calling as Christians is not to fix the world, but to love the world, as our Lord did before us. He has saved us and called us out of this world to Him. We cannot now choose worldliness over godliness. If every Christian spent even half of the time with God that we do following news or absorbing our culture through entertainment and such, we would be transformed, and we would have the transforming power of love to share with others.
Recently, I’ve taken to smiling at everyone I encounter, even in passing, because I am such a warm fuzzy kinda gal. Even with masks, we can see smiles, anger, fear, concern, compassion, and such in each other’s eyes. I am saddened by how many people refuse to make eye contact – head down, eyes straight forward, impassive expression. We are alienated by more than a virus. Distrust and anger bubble just below the surface.
Regardless of the trends of culture, Christians are not supposed to be wholly invested in any society. Indeed, we cannot be. The true identity of Christians is not Democrat or Republican, not black, brown, or white, and not even male or female. Our true identity is that of Christian before all else. We are the Lord’s own people. The Author of all that is, from beginning to end and everything in between, knows your name. The One Whose breath lit billions of stars hears our whispered prayers of fear and want, of shame and gratitude. That is who we are – the people who belong to the Holy One, the Savior.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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