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New International Version (NIV; British text)
The current fascination in the media with personal identity pinpoints the general unsettled feeling of many in today’s world. Fractured families resulting from promiscuous lifestyles, shifting populations, ethnic strife and emigration, and many more features of the present time, tend to strike at the very roots of personal worth and confidence, unsettling many, and causing them to wonder who they are.
Lacking sufficient guidance in the development of personal potential, the young may seek attention by outrageous behaviour. They aspire to be celebrities, with no particular achievements to offer. In later life a broken marriage or a work redundancy may trigger a serious emotional crisis and loss of personal confidence.
This trend has been termed an identity crisis. Erik Erikson, the psychologist who coined the term, believes that the identity crisis is the most important conflict human beings encounter when they go through eight developmental stages in life.
The identity is “a subjective sense as well as an observable quality of personal sameness and continuity, paired with some belief in the sameness and continuity of some shared world image. As a quality of unself-conscious living, this can be gloriously obvious in a young person who has found himself as he has found his communality. In him we see emerge a unique unification of what is irreversibly given — that is, body type and temperament, giftedness and vulnerability, infantile models and acquired ideals — with the open choices provided in available roles, occupational possibilities, values offered, mentors met, friendships made, and first sexual encounters.” (Erikson, 1970, in Life history and the historical moment.)
“The distinct and
recognizable nature of an individual, which results from a unique combination
of characteristics and qualities. In philosophy, identity is the sameness of a person, which may
continue in spite of changes in bodily appearance, personality, intellectual
abilities, memory, and so on.” (
Aside from the psychological consideration of one’s particular role in society, identity authentication is important in the modern world, for security reasons. We have PIN numbers and passwords exclusive to our own financial transactions, but these artificial attributes are open to misuse, and one’s identity can be impersonated by another using stolen data. While there may be striking physical resemblances, none of us has any exact ‘double’. A mere identity card is a fallible means of identification, but there are God-given passwords:
•No two persons have fingerprints exactly alike.
• The pattern on the iris is also unique.
• Facial features and expression identify us reliably and a photograph immediately calls to mind the person.
• Voice is an essential part of our identity. One word may be enough to trigger recognition. Even the recorded voices of those long dead can provide a permanent record of their individuality.
• The genetic DNA pattern is unique to an individual and can identify that person and his or her offspring.
David marvelled that nothing was hidden from the Creator:
“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. . . . For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139: 1-3, 13-16).
Jesus’ assurance to the disciples that “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” may well indicate not only the Father’s care for our every need, but also His intimate knowledge of our being (Matthew 10: 30).
And God does not forget! We are written in His book of life, and the promise of a resurrection for all in Christ’s coming Kingdom presupposes that He who originally created man is fully able to recreate each individual in a new body, the unique identity restored and the personal character qualities reinstated, so that all will know themselves, know one another, and be aware of their former existence.
Personal character is undoubtedly the most important feature of one’s identity. Even Pilate, face to face with Jesus, exclaimed involuntarily “Ecce homo!” – “Beholdthe man!” – not only a Jew above all other Jews, but a man above all other men. It was not His physical appearance, but His nobility of character that so impressed the Roman Governor (John 19: 5, King James Version). In the exceptional circumstances of our Lord’s resurrection and His stay on earth until the Ascension, His physical appearance evidently bore no resemblance to that of the Jesus they had known before. It was His personality, His character, that revealed His identity. The body of Christ had been laid down in death for the world’s sins, and could never be recovered to life. The Christ that the disciples saw afterwards was an earthly, human representation of their Lord in His Divine being.
God knows us, also, by our cultivated characters. Mercifully, He does not expect perfection in those handicapped by inherited sin – every one of us. He heartily approves our efforts to overcome it, and looks on our intentions, rather than on our achievements. And we know that our unwilling faults and weaknesses are covered by the blood of Christ, whose righteousness is imputed to us.
Our character and personality do not change during a night of sleep. Neither when awakened from the sleep of death shall we discover in ourselves any change of character, for better or for worse. Despite our best efforts in this life, we shall fall short of the Divine standard, but the Judgment Day then in progress will be a time of instruction, correction, and testing. And no longer under sentence of death or hindered by inherited weakness, we shall all have a full, fair opportunity to eradicate from our characters the adverse effects of sin, which have afflicted even the noblest. The Apostle Paul’s despairing cry, “What a wretched man I am!” has found an echo in the hearts of most who have sought in this life to rise above the power of sin
(Romans 7: 24).
As we begin the
present life with a blank page, and write our biography with each passing year,
we see progressive development in one another, especially if we have
yielded to the grace of God and have been pupils in the
All character crises resolved, personal confidence restored, their places in society understood and valued, those former captives of sin and death will stand erect, upright, once more in the image and likeness of the Creator. And seeing the resurrection work complete, man crowned again with glory and honour, having dominion over God’s earthly creation (Psalm 8: 4-6), the heavenly hosts may well exclaim: “Ecce homo!”–“Beholdthe man!”
So – Who Do You Think You Are?
Copyright September 2008, ukbiblestudents.co.uk. May be reproduced only with permission.