For You formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works;
my soul knows it very well.
- Psalm 139:13-14
Conceivably the saddest facet of our current age is the highly visible trend of identifying our own identity. If you’re on social media, you cannot escape the stream of increasingly bizarre identities demanding acceptance. People seem to think they are no one until they decide who they want to be, and the right to self-determination is absolute. That is so sad. How small is the human imagination in comparison to the greatness of God’s creating power. Human beings will always choose less for themselves than God would give us. Whatever identity we think we want will never be as good as the one God knitted together when He formed us in the womb. Before our first breath, the Word of God was calling us into being.
Who am I? I identify as…! In spite of the myriad claims we hear today, these are questions for which we do not have the answer. What we have within are a unique set of talents, interests, and capacities that represent remarkable potentialities instilled in our creation, and we cannot bring these qualities to fulfillment by searching ourselves. For the human condition is no longer all that God desired and intended and is instead riddled with the plague of sin and specter of death. Still, beneath muck of sin and death is the work of God in each wonderful human being.
For at least a century American society has been moving toward exclusive individualism as the sole authoritative source of personal knowledge. We are our own self-defined authorities. Not only do Americans no longer need God, we increasingly believe we do not need our families, nor our neighbors, nor knowledge of the past, nor concern for the future. All of these serve to stunt our freedom to choose any life, any future, any identity we want. Yet, when stripped of all of these, what difference does it make who we are? All that is left is the isolated, narcissistic individual without any of the relational expectations and demands that form character and engender wisdom.
Looking inward, what we will find is a morass of God-given inclinations and preferences – from being inclined toward mathematics to preferring music – all of which are deformed by the weight sin and bearing the seeds of death. When we take that which is distorted and bent like a reflection in a broken mirror, then idolize it as our authentic self, we become disjointed parodies of our true humanity, caricatures rather than breathtaking, multi-dimensional art.
For millennia, belief that human beings were born without imprint of any kind, the tabula rasa or “blank slate” theory generally held primacy in understanding human nature. In recent history, John Locke championed this idea in his philosophical empiricism, but the belief dates back at least as far as Aristotle. With increased research and discoveries in genetics and biology, the notion that we are born a blank slate with endless possibilities seems more and more implausible.
Interestingly, evolutionary biologists and researchers argue that our genetic makeup predisposes us to inherited traits and dispositions. In other words, whereas Locke and company argued for post-birth formation of the individual, medical and biological sciences now posit a pre-birth inheritance, at least to some extent.
Then, there are the social theories that argue we are all constructs of our surroundings – people, places, and ideas. This school of thought more than any other is the least intelligent and therefore, the most dangerous. The implication is that we are nothing more than what others impose on us, and this idea is what drives people to sever the ties of family, faith, and friends to chase our imaginations and enter into delusions as reality.
All of these theories, from Aristotle into today, are theories drawn from human minds and human observations, as well as human desires and passions. While older theories of human nature point to improvement of the individual, contemporary ideologies appear to hold that nothing in human nature needs improving, and all that is needed is the freedom to be expressed. We are well reminded of the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9)
Do you realize that science does not know what life is? Life can be measured in heartbeats and brainwaves, but the essence of life is not known. Everything we know about life is speculative. We can follow the stages of development in the womb, and we can identify the stages of decline as we age. But we do not know what is the essence or conscience or being that distinguishes life from death. Theories of evolution, cognition, and ontology abound, both now and historically, but these are all speculative theories without definitive evidence. Does it not humble us in the least that the whole of creation pushes toward life, and the greatest minds of human beings do not even know what that is?
Life comes from God, and while we can measure it, define it, and manipulate it, we can never create it. I have never created the seed of a tomato, but I have grown many tomatoes from seeds. You have never created an egg or a sperm in a lab, but you have birthed or seen birthed many children. Human beings can be co-creators with God, but we can only do so with materials God has created first. If we fail to recognize this most basic truth about life and existence, we run amok with theories and ideas, and our designs will be flawed and eventually destructive.
To know oneself we must know our Creator. Only when we look to Him are we able to see ourselves. He alone knows the unique combination of time and place, abilities and interests, as well as the possibilities and destiny He knitted together in each of us when He formed us in the womb. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, for even as He forms our inward parts, our God knits together all that we can be and become before we’ve taken our first breath. But we do not find ourselves. Our God reveals to us who we are.
Each human being is fearfully and wonderfully made. Eight billion people on the planet have eight billion distinct sets of fingerprints and eight billion different pairs of eyes. Even identical twins, who are indistinguishable biologically, are unique in the essence of life. The works of God are wonderful in forming every person, and the magnitude of God’s investment in individual human life boggles the mind. That we now embrace the belief that we are free to create ourselves however we wish reflects the arrogance of the fall in Genesis 3 and promises the death that comes from estrangement from our Maker.
This is the message Christians are called to share in our nation today. The form of the message may be different, but the substance of the message is unchanged. We will know ourselves when we see ourselves through the eyes of the One Who gave us life. Only when we strive to become the person God envisioned when He formed us in our mother’s womb will we ever approach anything close to true freedom. Every other push to be free is simply a change in masters and never for the better.
The self-directed and internal search for self is futile. What we find is not what we can be. Only when we look to the One Who called us from nothingness to life will we see all that He is able to accomplish in us, for us, and through us. We do not find our own authentic identity. Our Creator reveals it to us.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau