A famous philosopher once said 'Cogito, ergo sum': I think, therefore I am. That we are, that we exist, is indubitable; but many have, do, and will ask about what this means. Who is this I? Who am I?
This question plagues us. We have a deep, insatiable and oftentimes inexpressible need to define our identity. We want to know where we fit into the scheme of things and what our meaning is. We long for clarity about ourselves. We crave significance and validity.
Our usual starting point on that quest is ourselves. Looking inwardly we seek to understand our being in relation to the world about us. Such longing and looking for an answer to the question also manifests itself externally in our behaviour and decision making. All this takes shape in as many ways as there are people.
Maybe our outward appearance or achievements answer this question? Or perhaps it is our possessions or personality, or even other people that define us. These are things that we often use to resolve our identity problem and establish ourselves as our 'own person'.
Our culture deeply cares about appearance and so most of us as individuals do too. How we look matters. Our clothing becomes an expression of our identity; our attractiveness the definition of who we are. A haircut can say, 'I am carefree'; a pair of trousers 'I am a professional'; or shoes, 'I am strong'.
Many of us, especially young adults, answer this question by referring to our success in life. One of the first questions we ask when meeting someone new is 'what do you do?' What we really mean is 'who are you?' because we see our career and activities as ways to establish our place in the world. They create self-worth and purpose and meaning.
Belongings are also very significant in defining who we are. They show our identity and our abilities. They give us power in our daily lives. We dream of objects to own and when we get them we use them to fulfil our desires, thus reinforcing who we are. Possessions help us to create, maintain and preserve our identity in a variety of ways.
Sometimes we refer to our own personality to answer the question of who we are. After all, no one is exactly as we are; everyone's personal, emotional and mental characteristics are unique—a strange combination never to be replicated. 'I am funny/smart/kind/stubborn/indecisive ...' we tell ourselves and then happily go on.
If we don't know ourselves well enough to say who we are by what we do and have then we may turn to other people to define ourselves. We can live for the perception others have of us or our relationships. This becomes who we are; being a good kid, liked by everyone, chosen by a lover, part of an exclusive group or something similar is what we then rest our identity in. Unfortunately we are all sinners—we endlessly hurt others and do wrong—so an identity relying on people is not safe or lasting.
Appearance, achievements, possessions, personality and even other people all express our desire to define our identities and understand who we are but in and of themselves they are incomplete. Each can only inadequately try to answer the question of who we are.
The truth is that we are more than what we look like, do or have; we are more than what others say and think about us. We are more than the parts that make us up. We are intricate beings made by the Creator God.
As such, to answer the question of who we are, the first place we must go to is the Bible—God's Word. This book alone can adequately answer the question of who we are. It will tell us that the uniqueness of a person's being comes from God, the King of the universe, who originally made mankind in His very image with capacity for love, creativity, relationship and more.
It will tell us that the most important thing we need to understand is that we are sinners, condemned as we are before this holy and just God to justly suffer eternally because of our wickedness and rebellion against Him.
It will tell us that though we are so much more at fault than we can ever know (due to our very nature being self-centred and sinful) God did not abandon us. He sent Jesus Christ, our fully God and fully man Saviour, to dwell among us and die in our place—bearing the wrath of God that we deserve. All so that we may have everlasting life when we repent of our evil and believe in Him.
It will tell us that if we truly repent and believe then we are no longer condemned but we are made new, adopted as children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8) for eternity!
No one can better know us and tell us about ourselves than the one who formed us in our mothers' wombs and who knew our days before we were born. It is in God's word alone that we find the true answer to the question of who we are as people.
Only there can we know where we fit into the scheme of things and what our meaning is. We can find clarity about ourselves but we must turn to the One who made us for it.
Irenie How is young yet, by the grace of God, was saved while she was running away from and fighting against Him. God showed her that He is the Lord and she wants you to know this too. After becoming a Christian she finished studying to become a graphic designer and as this she currently works full-time in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Irenie How's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/irenie-how.html