Face in the mirror (mosaic detail), 5th century, Sidi Ghrib archaeological site in Tunisia.
Who are you? The first thing that often comes to mind when asked this question is the roles we play: butcher, baker, candlestick-maker. Those labels don’t say anything about who we are, only what we do. We might say things like “husband” or “father.” But such terms only define us in relation to other people.
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said, “Know thyself.” In Hamlet, Shakespeare’s character Polonius tells his son Laertes: “To thine own self be true.” But what does that mean and how do we do it? You have to begin with the question, Who are you?
God created everything for a purpose. When He surveyed His handiwork He declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Not only is all of creation good, but God’s goodness extends to every part of it. Not only are trees good, but every tree is good. One of the most famous modern-day mystics, Thomas Merton explained, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him” (New Seeds of Contemplation, 29). It’s not that easy for people.
Trees have no choice but to be trees. People have free will. We can choose to be something other than what God intended. In the book of Jonah, everything in nature obeys God. The wind, the waves, the whale, the gourd, and the worm all do what God says. The only creature that disobeys God is a man, Jonah himself. And it’s no wonder. God made us is in His image. Like God we have a will of our own. By an act of the will we can become something ugly, something other-than-human. Fortunately it works the other way too. We can become truly human . . . with God’s help.
To answer the question Who are you? requires a Lewis-and-Clark journey of discovery inside yourself. It will be scary at times. There’s sin in there. Remember the movie Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back? Luke Skywalker goes into a cave where he meets his enemy Darth Vader. And kills him. Only to discover the man in the Darth Vader mask is himself. Who are you? We may not want to know.
The good news is that once we confront our true selves—the good, the bad, and the ugly—then and only then, we are ready to be saved. “But I’m already saved!” you say. I’m not talking about being saved from the hell that lies beyond the grave (though that’s important too). I’m talking about being saved from the hell that lies within ourselves. Call it “sanctification” if you want a churchy word for it. It means becoming what we’re supposed to be. And what is that exactly? In a word, God.
Again Thomas Merton: “Whatever is in God is really identical with Him, for His infinite simplicity admits no division and no distinction. Therefore I cannot hope to find myself anywhere except in Him” (New Seeds of Contemplation, 35). The Bible talks about us becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). The early church fathers put it this way: Jesus became what we are that we might become what he is. Best. Deal. Ever.