Posted on October 6, 2018
Posted on October 6, 2018
People are made to name and to be named. God names humans as His image and then renames people, most significantly Abram, to indicate how their very identity has been shaped by their history and experiences in God.
In Ephesians 3:15 Paul uses the phrase;
“…before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name.”
It is important for our identities to be received, not simply formulated through our own whims and desires. Imagine the tragedy and impact of parents refusing to name a child and making the child name themselves. We need an orientation point outside of ourselves, we need to know we belong somewhere and to someone.
Increasingly identity in western culture is seen as something that has fluidity, but identity and particularly names are something that are meant to remind us who we are, and whose we are. We are named by our parents, and they were named by their parents, and like it or not we are linked to our genealogy. As much as many of us, especially in our teenage years, would love to throw off what we see as the confines of familial connection, we are inextricably linked and shaped through the people we belong to.
We do in fact belong to people, social scientists continually affirm that we are social creatures who derive our meaning and identity from our relatedness. Even the various fads and phases that happen through our childhood and adolescence are attempts to transcend our given belonging (most often our family, nation or religion), and attach ourselves to another group (often marked by external signifiers of fashion, to signify an allegiance to a music genre or social movement).
Often our adolescent rebellion is against, most commonly, our family. Our rebellion is motivated by trying to achieve something we most likely already have, but do not feel and therefore do not remember; An Identity and a sense of belonging.
This is the very root of our human problem. We are a people who have forgotten who we are.
In the midst of the tremendous creativity of the creation account, we find a story that seeks to remind us of this common human malady; A stolen or forgotten identity. Many wonderful things are created, and then the pinnacle of this creation are creatures that resemble the very creator Himself. The image of God, man and woman. Yet further on in the story, all is lost when the chaos creature, the serpent, offers the creator-like creatures what they already have;
“Serpent: That’s not true; will you not die. God said that because he knows that when you eat it you will be like God” Gen3:5
The serpent tempts Eve with what she already has; the image of God. This case of identity theft leads the creator-creatures to lose their connection the very source of their life, and every subsequent human ratifies this grave choice.
Scripture is written as a narrative to invite us to belong to the covenant people whose story it tells. As we read it, we see a story that links all humanity together in our inclination to beauty, belonging, as well as to disconnection and pain. Scripture helps us realise that we can belong to a family, an identity that has been constructed and achieved by someone else, namely Jesus Christ. Finally, He is the one who relieves us from the unbearable burden of creating our identities from the ground up.
This isn’t to say that God is disinterested in our uniqueness, our expressiveness or our individual choices. He is, but the most important things about us, much like our human family identity, are things we are given, not things that we have achieved for ourselves. In some sense, we create the significance of our first name and we receive the significance, both good and ill of our family name.
In the emptiness that emerges when we are driven to create our own identity, we define ourselves in ways which mark us out from one other. We end up needing to defining ourselves over, apart and against one another. What makes us different? How do we count in the midst of the masses of others? This whole pursuit creates competition and disconnection and creates the intense fragmentation we experience and observe in society today.
Most of the evil, rebellion, and pain-inflicting actions of humans I’m convinced come from this basic foundational issue; there is not a place where they are loved, where they belong, where they are given a name that has more dignity than they could have ever dreamed. We are not driven by the need to create an identity, we receive the gift of identity and are then free to bless others to join in this family name.
At the heart of our modern identity theft is the way we understand the idea of freedom. Our understanding of freedom is to be free to choose every decision and action based on our personal desire and preference. The major problem with this freedom is that it does not take into account how interrelated our desires and actions are. We are deciding, thinking and acting within a mesh of perceived and invisible tensions and pressures that we often struggle to even identify. This type of freedom is a mirage. We cannot stand objectively and decide, so many things have been decided already, so many of the contexts of our decisions, the very choices we are given have been pre-selected for us. To attempt to objectively decide and judge every action and situation would render us paralysed and creates the curved-in state that Luther said was the essence of sin. That is why rather than attempt to create our own identities at every turn, we have been given boundary lines that make our choices meaningful.
If we try to craft our own identities disconnected from the One who gives true names we risk becoming mere shadows of what was intended for us. We have been given names, as dignified as sons and daughters of the living God. If we forget who we are, we don’t just endanger ourselves but we work against the very redemption story of creation we’ve been caught up in.