Who Gets to Determine Our Identity?

June 18, 2015

So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 1 Samuel 16:10

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14

labelJesse does not get “Good Father” points for his handling of his youngest son, David, when it came time to anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. He did not even bother bringing David to the event. He left him in the fields to watch the sheep. After all, what were the odds that God’s agent, Samuel, would identify the youngest of all Jesse’s sons as the next king? The good news for David was this: his earthly father did not get to dictate who he was. Only his heavenly Father, his Creator, gets to do that. And David acknowledged as much in his 139th Psalm.

At a time when our culture has become obsessed with “identity” issues (gender identity, ethnic identity, political identity, etc.) this 3,000-year-old story about a boy named David begs a critical question for each of us to ask ourselves: Who gets to determine our identity? Am I the person others say I am? Am I the person my family says I am? In matters of identity, who has the final word?

I think all of us have believed a lie or two over the course of our lifetimes when it comes to answering this question. Here are some of those lies:

1. Social Media gets to determine my identity. It is the lie at the very heart of cyber-bullying. Untold thousands (millions?) of teens have changed the entire course of their young lives as a result of what their “friends” and connections on social media have said to (or even about) them. Social media has created an unhealthy self-perception for so many young people who see all the glowing posts and updates from their friends and then look at the reality of their own “boring” lives and draw all the wrong conclusions about themselves. Even as I write this post, there is a “belly button challenge” going viral that implies to perfectly healthy people all around the world that they are probably too fat if they cannot complete this ridiculous challenge. It is a lie. And my identity is likewise not determined by how many FaceBook friends or Twitter followers I have. God help the person whose entire identity is dependent upon thousands of people (real or not) who do not even know him/her. It is a lie. Social media does NOT get to determine our identity.

2. Friends or family get to determine my identity. It is the lie that sends millions into support/recovery groups every year to deal with “baggage” rendering us dysfunctional as a result of calloused or careless comments made by those whose opinions we value most, whether we realize it or not. It is how we are wired…to care about some particular people’s opinions (loved ones whom we call family) and to be impacted by those opinions even when we do not want to be. Aren’t we glad that David did not allow his father’s “slight” of him to dictate his identity? If he had, we might never have witnessed Israel’s greatest king. I wonder how many millions of truly great people have become great even in the face of parents or spouses or siblings who failed to see their greatness? We are all shaped by how our loved ones perceive us. But ultimately, they (our friends and families) do NOT get to determine our identity.

3.  I get to determine my own identity. This may be the biggest lie of them all…the one our culture struggles with the most. In my generation (Baby Boomers), it was in the mantras “Be your own man”, “Do your own thing”, “I did it MY way”, “The self-made man”, etc. In the Millennial generation, the mantras are different but the lie is the same: “You do you…I do me.” The lie is simple, but pervasive…I get to decide who I am, what I am, and who or what I am meant to be. And we make these determinations based almost entirely upon what makes us feel good (or at least better) about ourselves. The problem with this, of course, is that the thing created does not ever get to decide what it is. Only the creator gets to do that. Isaiah and Jeremiah both used the “potter and the clay” metaphor to warn about a people who had “each done what was right in his own eyes”. The clay does not get to say to the potter what it is. As a created people, we are in no position at all to know what we were created for, separate and apart from the mind of the Creator. We simply do not have the perspective to know that on our own. We do NOT get to determine our own identity.

As another function of these various lies, we also believe the lies our culture tells us (and we tell ourselves) about the level of importance various forms of identity rightfully hold for us. Teenagers look at our current adult culture and naturally conclude that sexual identity (or gender identity) is the most important identity in one’s life. It’s a lie. Others might say that racial or ethnic identity is most important. It’s a lie. Still others make it clear that their political identity is what is most important. Another lie. None of these are true, at least not according to scripture. Jesus gives us his clear guidance about what is most important: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but through me. John 14:6. At the end of our lives, the only identity that will matter is our identity in Christ (or not).

Of course, once we answer this first question, i.e., “Who gets to determine my identity?” (Answer: God), then the second question becomes, “How do I know what identity God has determined for me?” But that’s another blog post. For now, we remember the warning in Isaiah 29:16:

You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

Our creator knows our identity. We should listen to Him.

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