In Search of Identity

Our class schedule at BSSM has a steady diet of Bible and theology. We recently spent time looking at the creation and fall of humanity, and I had opportunity to share with the class some thoughts that have been significant for me. There were enough inquiries and requests for clarification that I determined it was worth the effort to put them in writing.

Here we go…

creationFrom the very beginning, people have been the unique apex of Creation. We alone bear the image of God. The first titles that Scripture would drive us to place upon God are Creator and Ruler. So as one would expect, God designed us to be rulers and creators. From a place of perfect harmony with our Maker, we are set to fill His world with vivid depictions of His qualities through gracious and powerful ways in which we steward life within our lives, families, and world.

However, sin changes all of this. The divine image is fragmented like a shattered mirror. Our hands get bloodied as they attempt to reset the shards of our broken identity, and we find ourselves exposed to a scope of shame, insecurity, and fear far larger than our hiding skills can handle. And when one’s legitimate identity is lost, no other option exists: We will seek an illegitimate replacement.

In the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God pronounces the “curses” that will fall upon them. Check Genesis 3:16-19 below:

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Adam’s role of producer now faces new challenges. The attention and intensity required for sustenance will spike. He will throw himself into working and weeding, and seldom will he receive the payoff he anticipates.

Eve’s role of procreator now faces new challenges. The pain and struggle involved in bringing forth new life will climb. She will throw herself into nurturing and nourishing, and seldom will she receive the payoff she anticipates.

These are the curses, so we are told. However, grace always shows up in the most surprising places. A slow look at our great ancestors departing God’s garden provides a rich revelation.

Perhaps all human ventures can be found in two words:

  • Tasks
  • People

The timeless temptation to establish our own identities repeatedly drives us to these realms.

Tasks: We will seek to be known by what we can do. We will pursue productivity, chasing greater efficiency and higher levels of competence. Through achievement, we will carve out our place in the world and establish our reputation as a person of value.

People: We will seek to be known by who we know. We will pour ourselves into family or friends. We will nurture connections and construct networks. Through relationships, we will carve out our place in the world and establish our reputation as a person of value.

Except that we won’t.

Hidden in the darkness of sin’s curse is a measure of divine grace: God will never allow us to find satisfaction in false identity.

Adam may toil rigorously and relentlessly, but the thorns and the thistles will never allow him to attain the heights or harvest of which he dreams. His restlessness will find no rest in tasks.

And Eve may relate dotingly and devotedly, but the pains of labour will become the pains of love, and no amount of pouring herself out will result in her feeling filled up. Her restlessness will find no rest in people.

Even the affliction of the Fall displays the affection of the Father.

Said another way: Sometimes our hearts’ homelessness is God’s gift to lead us to Himself.

Saint Augustine knew it well:

“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

The thorns’ piercing provides shocking protection. The contractions’ strain houses surprising shelter. The Father refuses that we would find rest apart from Him, and in His gracious move of loving redemption, He turns even curses into blessing. We will whine and wander, sweat and swear. But we will remain migrants until we find our way home to the One who makes and re-makes us.

And this is a sign of God’s kindness toward us as the ones He dearly loves.

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