Individual identity is a weighty concept.
Our sense of identity–the “Who am I?” question–directly leads into questions of self-worth and purpose in life. What can sustain such a weighty concept? What can bare the weight of a question that will shape the whole of a person’s life?
Our present culture has done away with a number of categories that used to support the weight of individual identity. Work is increasingly devalued as titles and degrees eclipse the output of the worker as an indicator of success. Relationships are increasingly amorphous–coming and going at an alarming rate–and transforming into forms of self-gratification rather than self-sacrifice. Even innate character traits, like loyalty and trustworthiness, are fading from the epitaphs left on our tombstones. It’s not as if these categories could sustain the weight of identity anyway–every job, relationship, and character trait is subject to change. And fluid identities, sadly, lead to a fluid sense of self-worth and purpose.
As the traditional categories fade, sexuality and gender in particular have taken their place. As with work, relationships, and character, these categories can’t sustain the weight that has been place upon them. Even if we treated sexuality and gender as fixed, they can both be undermined by diseases that necessitate the remove sexual organs, for example. In the present culture, the eunuch does not have value or a voice! More than that, sexuality and gender are not treated as fixed, but fluid. As with the traditional categories, sexuality and gender are both subject to change, which means that self-worth and purpose is subject to change as well.
By placing undue weight on these categories (traditional or contemporary) for identity, we are placing a burden upon individuals that they cannot possibly bear. Not only do these inadequate supports leave individuals adrift in a sea of cultural and circumstantial change, but they often require individuals to find their identity in relation to (and often at the expense of) others. It sets women against men and those who identify as gay against those who identify as straight. We must all prove our intrinsic worth in the arena of societal competition. In the end, we all lose.
We have an identity crisis in our society, but this is not new. There is nothing new under the sun–while the categories have changed, the faulty sense of identity has persisted through human history. Anytime we fix our identity to something that is not fixed in and of itself, we are committing ourselves to lives of uncertainty and unease.
The answer to the identity crisis in every age is a fixed identity, and such an identity–one unaffected by change–can only be divinely bestowed. Only the hand of God can offer us an identity, value, and purpose that the hand of man cannot remove. Only God can make a man a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) and “hidden with God in Christ” (Col. 3:3). And those graciously bestowed with such an identity will have no need to prove these identities in the area of societal combat, but rather can rest in the abiding comfort of a God-ordained identity.
Those crafted in the image of God will have no need to craft an image themselves.