I love books; this is no secret. And I especially love books with immersive worlds, wonderful places where I can drop in, lose myself, and become part of characters’ lives. A lot of teen and young adult books are great at this, as many of them establish classification systems for their characters. One of my favorite things to do is to take some quiz or test to find out “my” group. For example, my Divergent faction is Abnegation (although Erudite was a contender). In the Harry Potter world, well, I’m a “hat stall.” I’ve been Sorted into all four Hogwarts Houses at various points in life. My first was Gryffindor, much to the protestation of my friends (who said Ravenclaw) and the surprise of my family (who said Slytherin). I’ve never felt particularly brave enough or cool enough for Gryffindor, though, which may be why I keep retaking the test. Today I thought I would take it one final time, one last tie-breaker between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, my two most common results. So, where did it put me?
Hufflepuff. Not a bad place for a pastor.
The ubiquitous nature of this theme of (group) identity in literature geared toward young people makes me think, though. And when you add that to an astonishing number of personality tests currently available (ranging from the scientific to the Facebook app), it begins to look like our culture has developed an obsession with identity. Our own identities, to be exact. We can’t follow the mantra of “To thine own self be true” if we don’t know who our selves really are — and if our society places a value on anything, it’s individualism. And so we subject ourselves willingly to batteries of aptitude tests, personality quizzes, and a host of other assessments. We create new “identity labels” for things like sexuality and gender and then place most of our self-perception/-conception in those categories. It’s not enough, for example, for me to just call myself Chris; no, I am Chris of the Abnegation and House . . . Hufflepuff? Gryffindor?, a biological male with a corresponding gender identity, heterosexual, Caucasian (or, if you prefer, European American), political moderate conservative who is registered as a Republican.
We also place a great deal of our identities in other, external labels. We define ourselves by our jobs, so much so that the unemployed and the retired can often lose a sense of who they really are. Think, too, of those whose primary identity comes from being a mom, a dad, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a wife, a husband. If the other part of that relationship disappears, how will they then define themselves? Who will they become? Who are they at their core? Do they still know? Can they set aside those past roles, both vocational and relational, and recover the fundamentals of who they are?
The one place every Christian should find his or her identity is, of course, in God. Before we can relate to anyone else, we must remember we are human beings made in the image of God, the imago Dei. This means, in part, we are rational beings crafted for relationship. The primary relationship we have is with God, so our first identity is simply “one made in the image of God to have a relationship with God.” And out of that relationship comes our next level of identity (for the Christian): a born-again, forgiven child of the Living God. No other aspect of our identity should clash with that or call it into question. When “Who are you?” is answered with “I’m a Christian,” the asker should never have a follow-up of “Yeah, but this part of who you are isn’t.” Every facet of our lives is wholly given to God. Nothing is withheld.
From those twin cores of identity comes the foundation upon which we may build all other dimensions of who we are. I can be in a relationship of any sort with a fellow human being because of my identity as one in a relationship with God and created to do so. I don’t lose who I am when those human relationships fail because I still have that primary relationship with God. A loss of job doesn’t destroy my identity because I can work for the kingdom of God no matter what my career is. My sexuality and other desires are rightly ordered by God; my political affiliation should reflect how I believe God wants me to view that aspect of culture. This is the identity, the true self discovered when I abide in Him and He in me (John 15:5).
Can it go awry? Of course. Sin can impact every way I have of thinking about myself. My sexuality can be distorted, perverted, broken. I can become very passionate about things which are absolutely evil, and I can truly believe those evils are who I am deep inside myself. But I can always take a step back, remember I was born into a fallen world and sin affects even what I want most in life, even how I label myself. If I can take it back to God, surrender that to Him, He can overcome my sinful predispositions and restore me to my true self, remind me of my real identity.
So whether we’re Dauntless or Ravenclaw, remember who you are by remembering whose you are.