WHO AM I? (AND THREE ADDITIONAL CRUCIAL QUESTIONS)
January 5 - February 2, 2000 ~ Pickering Standard Church
If you came to this page hoping to learn a bit more about me you might want to visit this page instead.
This series of lessons will attempt to address four questions that every human being ask, whether they realize it or not. The answers to these questions determine how we live our lives and how we interact with the universe around us. Because the answers to these questions are foundational to the way we live our lives it is of fundamental importance that we understand what these answers are. The questions are:
1. Who am I?
You will notice that these questions are different from the questions typically given as foundational and which are listed below:
1. Who am I? Exploring our identity.
2. What is the problem? Explaining the difference between what we expect and what we experience.
3. What is the solution? Reconciling the difference between what we expect and what we experience.
I discuss a different set of questions because I believe that they more adequately explore ourselves within the framework that houses our existence and that the issue of a problem and its solution are more intelligently discussed while exploring who we are. In our study of these questions we will find that the answers quite often will overlap and that there will be much common ground covered. Yet the emphasis, in spite of the commonality, will be different. Let us then begin to contemplate ourselves.
The question of who we are can only be answered by use of knowledge outside of ourselves. Just as we cannot determine our appearance without the assistance of a mirror so we cannot properly understand ourselves if we do not evaluate ourselves by means of something or someone external to ourselves. To answer the question of who we are requires that we know our origin, our purpose, and our future, for only in knowing where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going can we come to a proper conclusion regarding who we are.
As we mature from infancy through childhood and on into adulthood we discover that we are embarked upon a course of self definition. Our interests, abilities and relationships have moulded us into what we are today. Yet if I were to look back at my earliest memories I find nothing there that indicates that I planned to be where I am today. That I am a teacher of the Bible at Pickering Standard Church is not something that I planned it is something that happened to me. So in one sense I am who I am because of my personal desires and ambitions, yet in an other sense I am who I am because someone outside of me has pushed me where I would not have gone.
Many in our world have attempted to answer the question of who they are without accounting for the someone outside of themselves and as a consequence their answers are out of touch with reality. There is someone outside of every one of us and He is introduced to us both generally through His creation and specifically through His revelation of Himself in the Bible. Any attempt to discover who we are that does not account for God is inaccurate and not worthy as the guiding principal of our lives.
While the Bible never directly asks the question of who we are we can find the answer everywhere within its pages. There is never any doubt in the minds of any its writers that we are God’s children, His workmanship, and members of His body (Christ):
Romans 8:16 – The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.
Ephesians 2:10 – For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 5:30 – For we are members of his body.
The Bible deals directly with the issue of who we are. Witness Isaiah’s response to being in the presence of God Most High:
Isaiah 6:1-5 – In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
One of the interesting points here is that Isaiah knew who he was, he was a “man of unclean lips” and he lived among “a people of unclean lips.” He knew he was not holy enough to see what he was seeing and live, for Isaiah the question of his identity was one with a moral answer, it related to right and wrong. Lest we start to think that Isaiah had this question settled in his mind with that answer and that for others the answer would have been different observe the response of the seraphs to Isaiah’s lament:
Isaiah 6:6-7 – Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
The answer in heaven to the question of Isaiah’s identity was also a moral answer. Isaiah was impure and he was made pure. Heaven’s regard for man is not who are we in the way that most modern philosophers would see the question, in absolute ignorance of God, but who we are in relation to God. Are we righteous or unrighteous? Are our lips clean or unclean? Has our guilt been taken away or does it remain on us? Once that question is settled we can get on with life. Again, look at Isaiah’s response to his God given righteousness:
Isaiah 6:8 – Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
Once we begin to seriously consider who we are, we inevitably come to the understanding that we are embarked upon a journey of both self definition and self discovery. In one sense we continually define who we are through the choices we make in our lives yet in an other sense we are constantly discovering new truths about ourselves. It is as though we are a jigsaw puzzle in which we determine which pieces to insert in order to complete a predetermined whole. Ultimately, the question of who we are finds its only perfect answer in the One Eternal God. I am a Christian and am utterly reliant upon God and totally devoted to God; without Him I am nothing with Him I am all that I will ever need to be.
Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:26-28 – Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
Genesis 2:7 – The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
The question of where we came from is a question of great significance. It is an important question not simply because it seeks basic, foundational knowledge about our origins, it is important because the answer to this question determines our own importance. If it is true, as many believe today, that we are merely complex biological machines then we will have a different opinion of our worth than if we would if we believe that we have been created by God. As it turns out there are only two possible answers to the question of “Where did I come from?”
1. I am a result of limited, uncaring, and impersonal natural processes
2. I am created by an infinite, loving, and personal God
I cannot consider as valid any response to the question of our origin that incorporates a belief in a god other than the God Who reveals Himself through both the Bible and all of creation. I do this deliberately since, as they have been created by man, all the gods spoken of in all other religions are limited, uncaring, and impersonal because they are non-existent. Evaluating the question in this context we discover that if we believe that we are the result of natural process then we must believe that we are merely worms that have learned to walk upright and that we have no more significance or value than a single celled organism or a clump of dirt since the same natural process brought both of us about.
If we believe that we are created by an infinite, loving, and personal God then our value comes from the realization that He cared to make us and has placed us here for His purpose. We will discuss the issue of purpose further along, but for now I wish to show that who we are is determined by the purpose of our existence. If it is true that we are here only as the result of natural processes then there can be no purpose to our existence, life is meaningless since we are accidents in time and our identity has no lasting significance. If, however, it is true that we have been created by God then there is purpose to our existence, our life has meaning because our existence is the result of God’s purpose and our identity has an eternal significance.
Here is an illustration: If I were to throw an open box of toothpicks in the air and noticed when the toothpicks fell to the ground that they spelled out a word that word would have no meaning since it was simply the result of a combination of wind resistance, throwing velocity, and position in the box. But if I took those same toothpicks and placed them on the floor in such a way as to spell out the very same word that word now has the significance that I have imparted to it, there is a reason behind the existence of the word, its origin was by design rather than by chance.
As can be seen from this progression the answer to the question of where we came from can only be found either in our creator, or our lack of a creator. The answer determines who or what has ownership of us, nature or God, and the coming up with the wrong answer results in a dilemma as one must then live one’s life at odds with reality, see the brief discussion of Nietzsche in next section.
Descartes’ pronouncement “I think, therefore I am” was the result of his desire to rationally prove the existence of God from a strictly human point of view, by finding one unalterable truth which could not be doubted and upon that foundation of certainty building up to the certainty of God. In essence establishing the reality of God by means of the reality of man. Unfortunately for Descartes, and for the way of thinking which he initialized, the reality of God cannot be built upon what man thinks, instead it is the very reality of God that determines the reality of man. The answer to our question “Where did I come from?” can only be found when we understand that we exist only because God wills it. Even the ancient Greeks realized in this as is evidenced by this quote from one of Paul’s sermons in the city of Athens:
Acts 17:28 – 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
“The fatal flaw in the myth of human goodness is that it fails to correspond with what we know about the world from our own ordinary experience.” (Charles Colson – “How Now Shall We Live?” – pp. 189)
The fact is that from a strictly empirical viewpoint there is sufficient proof for the validity of everything within the Bible that, as Paul once wrote:
Romans 1:20 – For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
The extension of his argument, which is proven by Paul’s use of the statement “so that men are without excuse,” is that since there truly exists the One True God Who created us therefore we as His creation have a responsibility to live according to His decree.
It is a question of purpose, we are essentially asking: “What is the reason of my existence?” As the answer will determine our interaction with reality we could also ask: “Where and how do I fit in best with what I see around me?”
Since we have been created by God we therefore fit best in His creation when we live according to His guidelines. This is born out in the life of Friedrich Nietzsche. In the middle 1880s Nietzsche proclaimed that “God is dead.” As a result there was no longer any rational basis for human morality. Nietzsche died insane and many scholars believe that it was because he could not live consistently within God’s universe while maintaining his denial of God in his way of thinking. If God is dead then everything is gone and life itself is pointless.
Our purpose, the reason for our existence, depends completely on our origin. So, as was seen earlier, the question of our origin, when answered, also determines the reason for our existence and our responsibility to the world around us. The determination of our purpose is crucial for as Nietzsche also said:
Nietzsche – Men and women can endure any amount of suffering as long as they know the why of their existence.
For some evolutionists our responsibility is to survive at all costs since they adhere to the Darwinian principal of “Survival of the Fittest.” For other evolutionists our responsibility is to protect the world from destruction by its dominant species since that species, man, is no different in essence from any other creature. Hindus, enslaved under the concept of Karma, or “what goes around comes around,” believe that all that happens to them in this life is either punishment or reward for their actions in a previous life and that their responses to these happenings act to determine their position on their presumed ladder of life in their next life.
For the Christian our responsibility is stated very nicely by Micah:
Micah 6:8 – He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
King David also realized this same truth some 250 years earlier and gives the reason why as well:
1 Chronicles 29:10-17 – David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, "Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent.”
King David also saw that our desire to devote ourselves to the giving of glory, praise, and honour to God is something that is both instilled and nurtured by God
1 Chronicles 29:17-18 – “And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.”
For the Christian, therefore, our purpose is to do the will of the God Who placed us here and Who created the universe in its vast array for our benefit and His glory. Creation itself obeys the same principal, in the words of the Christian music group AD:
All creation sings, hail the King of kings
All creation sings, glory to Your name
And Jesus indicates the same idea in His response to the Pharisees of His time when they told Him to make His followers be silent on the occasion of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem:
Luke 19:40 – “I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
So the question of why we are here for the Christian is best answered when understood in the context of their special creation at the hand of an almighty and loving God who is worthy of praise for all that He has done and is doing in their lives. It is a question that has in its answer a firm view of the Christian’s ultimate destination.
It is a question of destiny, of what is our life all about, taking purpose to the next obvious step: “Why is there a purpose?” We have observed previously the meaninglessness of existence for those who believe in evolution, for all who have no belief in God. Consider now the meaninglessness of their death. For such a high form of life as man to merely end in the oblivion of death seems pointless, why live at all. The writer of Ecclesiastes well describes the futility of living within a philosophical framework that takes no account of God:
Ecclesiastes 3:19-22 (Pete’s Paraphrase) – The fate of man is identical to the fate of the animals; the same end awaits them both, each die in the same way. Their lives are the same and to be a man is to have no advantage over being an animal. Everything has no point. Man and animals both come from the same place and will both return to that place when they die.
Ecclesiastes 3:19-22 – Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
Ecclesiastes 9:5 – For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Contrary to such a view of the meaninglessness of life and death the Christian has hope:
2 Samuel 14:14 – Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.
Even Job, in the midst of all of his troubles, knew that death would not merely end his suffering and despair, it would lead him at last to the God he had so faithfully served all of his life:
Job 19:25-27 – I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes-- I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
There is a goal for those who know the truth, a destination for which we yearn. For the Christian the answer to the question “Where am I going?” is Heaven! Purpose has been ingrained into our existence, there is no emptiness to greet our non-existence but rather the God who has made us and who will welcome us into His kingdom with open arms.