Sunday, April 30, 2017

Your Identity: Who You Are Not, and Who You Are

Mad Max - captive in a wasteland of identity dissolution
I have taught in many places on the matters of personal identity - what is the nature of personhood? Who am I, and who are you?

I present the atheistic alternative, which is, briefly: a person is a purely physical thing, which means a material thing with no immaterial properties such as "mind," "soul," "free will," and "moral values." (Physical things, as physical, are not value-laden.)

Philosopher J. P. Moreland writes: “For the physicalist, I am merely a functioning brain and central nervous system enclosed in a physical body. I am a material substance characterized completely by physical properties and in which occur merely physical events, a creature made of matter—nothing more, nothing less.” (Moreland, The Soul: How we Know It's Real and Why It Matters)

The Christian theistic worldview on personhood is this:

You are a creation of God, in the image and likeness of God. You share spiritual characteristics with God, things like personality, intelligence, and free will. You are made for relationship with God. You have been given authority to rule on behalf of God (Genesis 1:26). You are made to reflect the glory of God (Psalm 8:5).

John Walton defines “image” as “a physical manifestation of divine (or royal) essence that bears the function of that which it represents; this gives the image-bearer the capacity to reflect the attributes [such as love, faithfulness, justice, and wisdom] of the one represented and act on his behalf.” (Walton, Genesis, 131) John Goldingay says that “God is a different league of person from us, but God is a person like us, not an abstract force or a principle. So despite the huge difference, Genesis says we are made in God’s image. You as a human being are the kind of thing God would be if God were earthly. 

You have a soul. (See Moreland, op. cit.; and see A Brief History of the Soul, by Stuart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro.)

As a follower of Jesus, your status is "in Christ."

You are a God-created, soulish, embodied, "in Christ" person. This means there are some things you are not

You are not what you doTo define yourself by what you do is to live on a spiritual and emotional roller coaster that is a function of your accomplishments. Your identity does not depend on what you have accomplished. Your productivity does not define you. Your worth is not the same as your usefulness

You are not what you have. Do not define yourself by your stuff. If you do, then when you lose any of your stuff you will slip into an indentityless darkness.

You are not what other people think of you. If people think well of you, say thank you. If people think ill of you, pray for them. But  do not go up and down and in and out on the basis of others' affirmation and disaffirmation. Refuse to let other people define you.

YOU ARE WHAT GOD THINKS OF YOU. Period. Case closed. Colossians 1:27 says: To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. When you understand this in your heart three things happen.

  1. You are set free from the punishing hierarchical honor-shame systems of the prevailing secular culture.
  2. You are free from the striving that happens on the ladder of the honor-shame hierarchy.
  3. You are free to love others.
I look at our culture and see a massive identity crisis. What once was a normal period of human development is now Western humanity's sad, seemingly permanent condition. The good news for me is that when God found me I also found my true self, who and what I am, and who and what I have been made for.