Who am I?" (2 Sam. 7:18).*
David's self-reflection is in a way a call to take stock of oneself, to pause be fore the Almighty and face the searching question, Who am I? A mini god? A fraud? A machine?
Many answers have been provided: some far from truth; some true but futile. We shall reflect on three such answers and find fulfillment in another.
Consider the philosopher. "The unexamined life," wrote an ancient philosopher, "is not worth living." So philosophy challenges me to discover who I am. On the one hand, in philosophy's wisdom, I am born to be the rational one. Knowledge is power, and it is power that makes or breaks me. So I must learn to ask the right question, probe the appropriate place, seek the right direction; and life beckons me to come to the mountaintop: to be an authentic person.
On the other hand, in philosophy's folly, I am a tiny speck in a vast universe alone, searching, groping, and meaning less. To be or not to be becomes the chief passion of my life. And it does not make any difference to the universe whether I am or I am not.
Between wisdom and folly, between optimistic query and pessimistic resignation, I stand alone: bewildered and hopeless.
Consider the primitive. The primitive's answer to the question "Who am I?" is one of tribal identification. I find my security in my group. My vision, my mind, my hope, my relationships are governed by my group-spirit. As a primitive I am quick to seal my identification with those visible marks: race, color, caste, status, sex, nationality, religion. The marks are not only visible, but so exclusive that I retreat into a world of my own to the point of creating a fence that splits "me" from "them." The split leads to its own extreme ends: in history an Auschwitz or a Gulag; in ideology a Berlin wall; in community life a Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict; in me a retreat into nothingness.
The trouble with such primitiveness is that I never get beyond the cave of self-interest. I become the midget of my own making: tall in stature, short in mind; strong in flesh, weak in spirit; soaring in pettiness, retreating in nobility. Tied to the unimportant, I never could become a full person.
Consider the mundane. If I were to seek my identity in the world of the mundane be it business or politics or profession power becomes my focus. On the way to reach the pedestal, I answer the question "Who am I?" with an affirmation of self. In the sentence of life, the subject is "I," the verb is "am," and the object is "me." I am me. Nothing else matters.
Every other is a stepping-stone; every thing is a tool in the direction of power. Love has no meaning. Mercy has no room. Service is a temporary flag, only to be cast down once power is achieved.
So I come back to the question: Who am I? The philosopher, the primitive, the mundane, cannot satisfactorily answer the question. And yet, answer I must. For unless I know my identity I cannot find rest or direction. Unless I know who I am, I shall not know who you are, and I cannot relate or function adequately.
So where do I go for an answer?
I turn to the cross. There I see my status: a sinner sought by God. When I look up to the cross, I see two persons: "the Son of God, who loved me and gave him self for me" (Gal. 2:20), and me. Were it not for my sins, Jesus would not have gone to the cross. He died on my behalf (Rom. 5:18) that I might live. He took the death that was mine in order that I might have life that was His. He delivered me from the bondage of sin and its consequences.
Not only am I a sinner, but a sinner sought by God. I am in a relationship with God. This relationship "between God and each soul [is] as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son."1
With that perspective, I can affirm that I am not a cosmic accident in this universe. I am not a paradigm of a long evolutionary process. I am not a cog in a giant machine, moving in space through endless years in a meaningless cycle. No, I am a child of God gone astray, to be sure, but pursuingly sought by the everlasting love of God. In that divine search, costing the death of the Son of God, I find my worth and dignity. As William Temple once re marked, "My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a marvelous great deal, for Christ died for me." 2
Philosophy may teach me to be rational. Sociology may direct me to live in community. Humanism may invite me to discover the relevance of interpersonal dynamic. Psychodynamics may turn me to look within for self-realization. All these have their place and their value, but at the end of it all, I stand at the fork, helpless, and cry out like Paul: I know what I must be, but that I am not; I know what I must not be, but that I am. I am in an irreconcilable dichotomy: between the ideal and the real, be tween the am and the ought. I am at war with myself, and my cry reaches its hope less nadir: "Who will deliver me?" (Rom. 7:15-25).
But the moment I turn to Calvary, I find freedom. I find forgiveness. I find reconciliation. I am at peace. I find that I am not my own. I am bought with a great price (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). Indeed, at the cross I discover that the most important issue is not who I am, but whose I am. It is that abandonment of self to the Man of the cross that leads to true self-discovery. Did not Jesus Himself model such abandonment? His relationship with the Father was such that the battle of Gethsemane and the fury of the cross could be turned into moments of affirming His Father's will.
The cross helps me to realize that as I come to Christ in total abandonment, I pass from death to life, from nothingness to certainty. I know whose I am. I am a child of God. From now on I don' t belong to myself. I can't deal with my body or spirit, my possession or my achievement, my origin or destiny as I please. I am accountable to Jesus: He is my priority, my purpose, and my meaning.
* All Scripture passages are from the Revised Standard Version.
1. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 100.
2. William Temple, Citizen and Churchman, p. 74. Quoted in John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Bombay: Gospel Literature Service, 1990), p. 282.