(for part 1 click here, for part 2 click here)
Psalm 121:1-3 I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth. God will not let your foot be moved and God who watches over you will not fall asleep.
Do you know who you are? I know it sounds like a banal question, and maybe even moot. Of course, we all know who we are. I know that I am me, and I know that you are you. I know this because I am not you and you are not me. Thus, I’m sure that you know that you are you and not me because you are not me. If you were me and I were you, then we’d both be able to replace each other. And that means we would not be unique as individuals.
So, maybe I should rephrase the question: who are you as an individual apart from your relational roles and deeds? In terms of defining ourselves we default to our relationships, to our job, to our hobbies, to our interests and the activities therein to define ourselves not only to other people (to whom we feel a need always to be prepared to give justification for our existence) but also to ourselves. We cling to these things not only to define ourselves, but to validate ourselves and our existence. As we live in the wake of sola suspicio of our post-modern, post-enlightenment, even post-Theistic mindset, we are in a personal desperate way as we fight for something, anything to cling to affirm our uniqueness, validate our existence, and secure our identity. But all of it is drift wood in this sea of tumult, chaos, and instability. There’s nothing secure enough in the material realm to cling that will give us a sense of self, an identity, a uniqueness and validation that won’t eventually become dust. Not even our own bodies offer us a stable constant, do they not betray us with time?
My identity is slipping through my fingers and nothing seems to satisfy.
God said to Abram, “…I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
We pick up again in the book of Genesis. Here, Moses, our faithful story-teller according to tradition, is telling us about the call of Abram. Chapter 12 in Genesis follows a colorful series of events: fierce cherubim and seraphim blocking off all access and reentrance to the Garden of Eden after the rather fateful “applegate” and subsequent curses (Gen 3), the first murder (Gen 4), various human civilizations being established (Gen 5), the appearance of the Nehphilim (the byproduct of the Sons of God knowing the Daughters of Humanity) (Gen 6:1-6), a massive and destructive flood (Gen 6:7-8:22), a rainbow of divine promise (Gen 9), and the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). It’s here, at this point in the story, where God (once again) begins anew, moving from a general approach to a specific approach: God will call one person, not for any other reason than God’s love for the whole world.
God’s promises and blessing to Abram suggests a reversal of the curses uttered just chapters earlier. These blessings and promises highlight that Abram has done nothing to receive them; they come as a “bolt from the blue.” The idea that God cannot be with God’s beloved as a result of the fall back in Genesis 3 is rendered myth in this moment. God calls Abram and blesses him; where Adam, Eve, and the serpent leave behind paradise, Abram is invited into it: paradise is union with God. Herein is the foundation for the claim that the curses are being reversed: by God’s love, Abram will be a great nation (many children, one of whom will be the Messiah, the promised child of Genesis 3) and this nation will be a blessing to the rest of the world.
In this moment of hearing the divine summons, Abram, in a moment, goes from a childless old man to the parent of many; here Abram becomes a new person, a new being by the Word of God summoning him to God’s self and thus into new life. And not a new self for his own sake, but in this hearing of the divine summons, Abram is ushered into a new life for others. This other-orientated characteristic of his new life will become part of his new identity in God and with God as he becomes a conduit for God to bless other nations. And in our context, the overflow of blessing and promise has already started: as Abram responds to God and finds his new life in God, Lot goes with him into this new thing.
We look in many places to anchor and secure our identity. We long for something permanent that’s always there to tell us who and what we are. Some of us spend our lives reaching for accolades to define ourselves, some of us invest all we have in our relationships striving to be good by our deeds, some of us spend all our time toiling away at some job, some of us are dead set that our “passions” or our “hobbies” are our identity. These things aren’t inherently bad; it’s good to have things to do and enjoy, it is wonderful to walk through life with other people, serving and sharing with them. But, when they’re forced to bear the burden of the weight of ourselves, our personhood, and our identity, they are found to be phantoms and illusions. They are merely a papier mache covering over fear and anxiety that, at the end of it all, we’re truly replaceable, unnecessary, forgettable.
We tell ourselves lies that we must be x or y or even z to be valued, forgetting all the while that we’re valuable because we are. full stop. These things that we reach for and demand they give us something on which to hang our identity will leave us still afraid and unstable because they can never give us what we so deeply desire: irreplaceability. These things are too fleeting and fickle to give us our uniqueness and irreplaceability—here one day and gone the next. We cannot attain our identity and irreplaceability by ourselves leaning on our deeds.
So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we navigate all this insecurity of identity, this threat of the loss of self? We must look beyond ourselves and our deeds. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for irreplaceable identity.
The irreplaceable individual is the one in whom another takes interest. Would you believe me if I told you that I take an interest in you? that you are—to me—irreplaceable? But there is also something bigger, securing for us that long desired irreplaceability, anchoring the thing that makes us unique, and to whom our existence matters day in and day out. God. Specifically, God brought close to us in Christ. This is why we come here every Sunday, to hear the age-old story of God calling Abram, to hear our own names in the place of Abrams, to hear our own summons, our own promises, our own being seen, known, and loved. We come here week after week to encounter divine love for us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We come here together and individually, to hear once again that God takes an interest in humanity and thus in us because in Christ, God shrugged off royalty to be as us, to identify as us, even unto death.
Beloved, God so loves you therefore you are irreplaceable, you are unique, you are of interest. You are loved and remembered by God; in you God takes hope.  In our hunger for irreplaceable identity, we hunger for God; in our hunger for God our identities are held, anchored to dependable substance because this story of God’s love for you never changes, it holds from one moment to the next, from one era to the next, not always in the same form but always with the same substance: divine love for the beloved.
In hearing the summons of God’s voice in the proclamation of divine love in Christ, God taking an interest in you and remembering you, calling you unto God’s self by the Spirit, you are called to walk with others. For this summons of God’s voice of love will always overflow through us to our neighbors, with whom we share blessings and promises of God’s love, interest, and remembrance. It’s here where we’re brought further out of ourselves and our desperate attempts to secure our own identities by our deeds by ourselves. It is here, in the midst of the divine summons and love where I find identity with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.
 Dorothee Sölle, Christ the Representative, 26. “In the course of the expanding process of secularization, the metaphysical irreplaceability of the human soul was itself transposed into secular achievements or expressions of life by which the individual made himself irreplaceable. Man discovered himself as essentially one who accomplishes things, and this prospect of self-realization, self-accomplishment, self-expression in work, blotted out the earlier metaphysical horizon. Now for the first time, in the context of the modern discovery of the individual, it was a man’s work-labour performed, his perfected achievement-which merited the dignity and status given to the relation between producer and player in the earlier conception. Man no longer acquired his identity simply from his relationship to God, which had once in itself provided an adequate explanation of the irreplaceability of the individual as a soul. He now achieves his own identity; he makes himself irreplaceable.”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible: Featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. Eds. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 30. “The universalism that marked Gen. chs 1-11 having now failed, the Lord begins anew, singling out one Mesopotamian—in no way distinguished from his peers as yet—and promising to make of him a great nation, not numbered in the seventy nations of ch. 10.”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 30. “What the Lord promises Abram (his name is changed to ‘Abraham’ only in ch 17)—land, numerous offspring, and blessing—constitutes to an extent a reversal of some of the curses on Adam and Eve—exile, pain in childbirth, and uncooperative soil…”
 Levenson, “Genesis” The Jewish Study Bible, 30. “The twin themes of land and progeny inform the rest of the Torah. In Gen. ch 12, these extraordinary promises come like a bolt from the blue, an act of God’s grace alone; no indication has been given as to why or even whether Abram merits them.”
 LW 2 (Luther’s Works Vol 2 “Lectures on Genesis Chapters 6-14” Ed. Jaroslav Pelikan. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1960.) 246. “…Moses reminds his people that they were chosen by the Lord, not because they had deserved this but because the Lord had loved them and was keeping the oath that had been given to their fathers? In this passage we see that the beginnings are in agreement with the end. For what is Abraham except a man who nears God when He calls him, that is, a merely passive person and merely the material on which divine mercy acts?”
 LW 2 247. “Thus, as I said above, Abraham is merely the material that the Divine Majesty seizes through the Word and forms into a new human being and into a patriarch, And so this rule is universally true, that of himself man is nothing, is capable of nothing, and has nothing except sin, death, and damnation; but through His mercy Almighty God brings it about that he is something and is freed from sin, death…”
 LW 2 258-259. “Here is presented the amazing promise that this people will not only be increased among itself and be blessed materially and spiritually, but that the blessing will also overflow to the neighboring nations and peoples. This happened to the Pharaoh in Egypt.”
 LW 2 275. “Behold God’s marvelous counsel! The promise pertained to Abraham only, not to Lot. Nevertheless, God attaches Lot, like a proselyte, to Abraham as his companion and moves his heart so that he wants to go into exile with his uncle rather than remain in his native country among the idolaters. This is because the promise given to Abraham be blessed with his descendants, it him others would become partakers of the blessing, even though the promise did not properly pertain to them.”
 Sölle, Representative, 46. “Whenever man’s horizon is bounded by his contribution, substitution also comes into play. A different basis must be found for man’s irreplaceability. I am irreplaceable only for those who love me. Only for them does a surplus remain, over and above whatever I perform at any given time: something not expressed in my action. This margin, this surplus of the person over and above all he performs, alone gives life to human relationships. To love means, in this sense, to count on this surplus, on what has not yet been expressed, not yet appeared. The invisible and unexpressed surplus is a reminder that I have not yet reached my full stature. Identity continues to be preserved in the experience of difference; in the consciousness of non-identity. But this consciousness knows that it cannot expunge itself. I do not become an irreplaceable person by my own effort, but only as I continue to be dependent on others.
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