Some issues that we study in the bible are at arm’s length to us personally. For example: Is there a second heaven? What about angels and baptism of the dead? But the concept of personal identity is not at arm’s length to us! The personal question of “Who am I”? has many layers, and at sometime in our life, it just could cause a crisis for us. Through the period of lent we’ll explore the concept of identity through these topics:
- Traditional and Modern Identity, Genesis 3:1-10, Luke 15:11-32, Ephesians 4:22-24 (Feb 14)
- Being human, Genesis 1:24-31; 2:8-25 (Feb 21)
- Identity though the image and likeness of God, Genesis 1:24-31; Colossians 1:9-23 (Feb 28)
- Foundations of human identity, Romans 12:3; Galatians 3:26-29, 6:3; 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 (Mar 7)
- Known by God, being in Christ, John 1; Philippians 3:1-11; Matthew 7:15-23; Galatians 2:14-21 (Mar 14)
- Diminished life, secure identity, Ecclesiastes 12:1-8; 2 Corinthians 5:13-21; Romans 6:3-10 (Mar 21)
- Knowing yourself as you are known, Colossians 3:1-14 (Mar 28)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the twentieth-century German pastor who was imprisoned and ultimately executed by the Nazis in World War Two wrote many letters and papers from prison. One was a famous poem titled “Who am I”?
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cells confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!
The poem has been adjudged to raise some questions that are uncomfortable (See Brian Roser, Known By God, Zondervan, 2017, p.29) like:
- What part do the impressions of others play in the way I perceive myself?
- What happens when these impression differ substantially from my own opinion of who I am?
- What would be left of me if the props of my identity (my job, possessions, roles, etc) were removed?
- What impact would a stolen past and a bleak future have on my sense of who I am now?
- What happens if the goals and aspirations that define me are left unfulfilled?
- What should I do with negative thoughts about myself, whether or not others confirm them?
- Where should we turn for answers when our sense of self is shaken to the core?
The final line by Bonhoeffer gives us a preview of where this series is going. The good news is that there is an identity that is a stable, secure gift for your flourishing and the worlds.