The Parish of Sandal Magna

Who am I?


In a recent Thought for the Day, the member of the Iona community, John Bell discussed the modern tendency to consider people as consumers, whether we are students, theatre-goers or passengers. This tendency to reduce our identity to what we consume or purchase is a dumbing down of who we are. If we are not just consumers in a market economy, who do we think we are, in the words of the programme about discovering our ancestry?

Are we a product of our family tree, our DNA? Are we identified by what we do, or what we might achieve? If we are just those things, then we are vulnerable to the uncertainties of family life and job satisfaction and achievements which soon gather dust on the mantelpiece.

Descartes wrote, "I think therefore I am", ushering in the rationalist era of the Enlightenment. This was famously parodied by Monty Python: "René Descartes was a …, I drink therefore I am." The parody has some truth in it, as our thoughts and consequent actions do not always represent who we really are.

The Bible begins with the majestic statement: "In the beginning, God created…" God is defined as creator, and after a long period of creative activity, evolving over six periods of time, denoted by the word 'day', humankind is created:

"So God created humankind in his own image, 
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them."

We are created in the image of God, with our distinctive genders. 
Let's just pause to take in the astonishing insight contained in those few words. We are created in the image of God! If this is true, and not everyone believes it, then we don’t have to worry any more about our identity, who we are. We find our identity in God, and God is both unchanging and multi-faceted. Our identity does not depend on shifting circumstances of jobs or family or health, or the vagaries of success and failure. It depends on God. And God is not limited by one image or name. As John Bell put it: "He is technicolour, not monochrome, a lover of variety not a devotee of uniformity".
God is also three person in one community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So if we find it hard to imagine the nature of God, we can see in the person of Jesus an image of true humanity we can identify with. We can also find our identity not just in our self, but in the community of people who surround us.

Paul frequently speaks of our being in Christ. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." This comes from Jesus himself who said, speaking about the vine and the branches: 'I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit." Our fruitfulness, the positive outcome of our lives, depends not on us, but on staying connected to Jesus, in whom we find our true identity.

That is an amazing thought. But it is one the requires us to believe in God who made us in his image. Maybe we should adapt Descartes and say: “I believe, therefore I am." The beauty of belief is that it is open to everyone, no matter what our education, upbringing, job or ancestry. Our origin is in God the creator, our identity is in Christ the beloved Son, and the fruitfulness of our lives comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit through whom God pours his love into our hearts.
Perhaps even more true would be the statement, "I am loved by God, therefore I am."

Rupert




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