Who are you?
Years ago people may have answered by saying who they were related to. So, you might have said 'I'm so-and-so’s husband’ or ‘so-and-so’s mum.’
But now we are much more disconnected. We have been taught by our culture to think of ourselves as pure individuals. We are told to ‘look inside ourselves’ and to ‘be true to ourselves’.
And so we’re all looking inside ourselves to discover ‘who we are’.
Searching for the hero inside
Often this ends up with us being defined by what we desire, and very often who we desire sexually. Ian, who are you? One popular answer today would be ‘I am a heterosexual man.’
But is that all you and I really are - desire machines? Am I content to be defined by who I am attracted to? Am I just what I like?
And, what if we discover that there are desires within us that we are not proud to admit?
We all have things about us that we don’t want anyone else to know. Do these things also define us? M-People told us that the secret was to ‘search inside yourself… deep, deep down inside yourself’ and then you’ll find ‘the hero inside’.
But, when we are honest, it’s not really a hero we discover on the inside.
Is that all you and I really are - desire machines? Am I content to be defined by who I am attracted to? Am I just what I like?
So, our culture leaves us in a frightening mess when it comes to the question ‘who am I?’
We have to pretend that we are something special when we have no real ground upon which to make that claim.
I will be with you
Christianity has a different answer. It says you really can be something truly special but, crucially and thankfully, it doesn’t depend on you.
In the Old Testament story of the Exodus, Moses (the leader of the Hebrew slaves) asks the “Who am I?” question to God.
A bit of background: God wants Moses to go to the king of Egypt, Pharaoh, and tell him to let all the Hebrews slaves leave the country. Pharaoh won’t like the idea: Egypt got rich off the backs of the Hebrews’ work.
Moses says to God, ‘“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11).
Moses clearly thinks that he really isn’t up to the job. He’s nothing special!
But note this: the way God answers Moses is stunning.
At first it doesn’t sound like it’s an answer at all. God simply says ““I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12).
What kind of answer is that! At first glance it’s a bit like,
Question: “Can I have fish for dinner?”
Answer: “I am a postman.”
Two unrelated statements!
But it’s actually a profound answer. 'I will be with you' means Moses (and you and I the Christian faith says) doesn’t need to search ‘inside himself’ for the ‘hero’ who isn’t really there.
It means that the basic answer to the ‘who am I?’ question isn’t ‘well, look inside and see what you find - good or bad’.
Instead the answer can be ‘you are someone who knows the God of the universe personally, irrelevant of what is on the inside.’
This can give us amazing confidence in life. Christianity says that we were created on purpose (so we are not an accident) for the ultimate purpose (so we are not meaningless) of really knowing God.
The answer can be ‘you are someone who knows the God of the universe personally, irrelevant of what is on the inside.’
Relationships define us
In reality, many of us will still answer the question ‘who are you’ by saying who we are related to. So, I am ‘Lydia’s husband’ or ‘Harry’s dad’.
When my siblings and I put the words together for our late-parents’ gravestone, we didn’t list our mum and dad’s respective passions and desires. We wrote,
‘Harry and Marion,
beloved mum and dad
of Ian, Hannah, Sarah and James.’
If anyone asks ‘who were Harry and Marion Goodson?’ the answer will be ‘they were Ian, Hannah, Sarah and James’ mum and dad.’
In the real world we still define ourselves by our relationships - and we always will. We are who we know. We can’t help it. We aren’t really pure individuals looking for the supposed hero inside without the need for anyone else to define us.
And this should be a huge clue that the key to a flourishing, truly happy, blessed life will be to do with who you are related to.
And Christianity says that the pinnacle of it all is the relationship with God for which we were designed.
Problem is, it’s a relationship that is completely messed up. We’d rather do absolutely anything than know God! And that’s what the Bible calls ‘sin’.
Entering the relationship for which you were ultimately designed
The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, forced into making bricks for the vast Egyptian building projects. It was a picture of the spiritual slavery everyone suffers.
The modern idea that we have to look inside ourselves to discover who we really are - an idea dreamt up by philosophers in universities decades ago but now filtered down to the masses - turns us into beaten-up isolated slaves, bereft of dignity and value.
But the wonder of the Christian view is that whoever you are, whatever you are really like on the inside (and the reality is that we are all far less than what we wish we were, let alone what God would want us to be), you can be someone who has God with them.
That’s why God himself came into the world as Jesus. He came to be physically close to us himself. Through his death on the cross he has made a way for us to be forgiven and get back into relationship with God.
The New Testament says God can literally live within us by his Spirit (Galatians 4:6). That’s how close we can be with God. That’s just how much God wants to ‘be with us’.
Moses wasn’t perfect on the inside. Far from it - he was a murderer! (Exodus 2:12). Moses didn’t impress God to win him over. Just read the story in the book of Exodus. Moses was an eighty year old shepherd living in the desert minding his own business.
But then God met him, gave him the dignity of a starring role in his plan of salvation, and told him that he himself would go with him.
That’s why God himself came into the world as Jesus. He came to be physically close to us himself. Through... the cross he has made a way for us to be forgiven and get back to God.
You and I are far from perfect on the inside. That’s problem when it comes to ‘searching for the hero inside’.
But the wonder of the Christian gospel is that the promise God made to Moses is offered to everyone. You don’t need to be a hero. You can give up the search! What a relief.
Instead, you can admit your faults and failings, and be someone who knows - personally - the true hero of the story, the Lord Jesus Christ, simply through faith.
Ian Goodson (Pastor, Grace Church Wakefield)
Would you like to know more about how the Christian gospel offers a better way of understanding ourselves and the world around us? Please get in touch.