The Severity of America’s Identity Crisis Heartbreak
Oct 4, 2019 by David Fowler
As we consider what causes physically healthy children to medically disfigure their natural bodies, we realize that it is a search for their identity; it is just one aspect of the crisis of identity that is driving so many changes and creating so many factions in our culture.
Identity is so important that, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court began one of its opinions this way:
When we realize that liberty, originally understood to “consist[ ] in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, or moving one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law,”2 now means expressing one’s identity, that should tell us how important individual identity has become.
The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. 1 (emphasis supplied)
Why is there such a crisis of identity among so many?
I had some pat answers to that question from my Christian upbringing—that we need to find our “identity in Christ” and not in other things—and that those who found their identity in dress, appearance, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, educational attainment, and so on were “missing the boat.”
I now see how hollow my understanding was of what I was saying.
I do not mean the answer was not true, but I didn’t appreciate the profundity of what I was saying. I have come to believe that this is the truest and most fundamentally important thing in the world I could believe.
The Journey to Finding My Own Identity
Over the last 18 months or so, I’ve come to see how shallow my thinking has been about two things I’ve always affirmed. The first is my belief in a Creator God. The second is that, unlike everything else that God created “after its kind,” the first human being was made “in the image of God.”
I’ve heard lots of explanations about what that means—we’re rational creatures, we’re creative in a way that is different from animals, we have a moral impulse—all of which are true, but the most overwhelming implication is that we were made in the image of God.
Here’s why saying that the most profound thing about being made in the image of God is that we’re made in the image of God is not a redundancy.
My wife and I just became grandparents, and it has been fun to consider the ways in which the twins (boy and girl) look like us and to have others suggest similarities to “our image.” But imagine someone someday saying about us, “Yes, he looks more and more like his 'Father, the Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth'”3 every day. That is the most profound “identity” marker we could ever imagine.
Where Must the Identity Journey Start?
But if those two things are true—God created us and created us in His image—then I can only discover my true identity as I discover what is true about God. “[M]an never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.”4
That is the reason the Bible says over and over that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7, NKJV). I can’t know who I am until I know the truth about the One whose image I bear and, without that truth, I don’t know how I was created to function or the purpose—the why—of my functioning.
Therefore, it makes sense that when we turn from God to look first into ourselves to develop our identities, we are bound to distort our identities and, in the case of some of our young people, even disfigure our bodies.
Moreover, we will tend to flit from one identity to another searching for a “true” identity so long as we refuse to make the knowledge of God our first priority. As Augustine said of himself, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Why This Journey Is the Road Less Traveled
Sadly, making the knowledge of God our first priority—looking in His face to see the reflection or image we are supposed to have—is the last face we really want to look into. Like the Beast in the famous 18th-century fairy tale, we don’t want to look in the mirror, because we know we may not like the image we’ll see.
To look into the face of the Holy One is what caused Isaiah, after pronouncing six woes on everything else, to pronounce the seventh one on himself; in seeing God’s holiness, he saw who he really was and how short he fell of the glory of God he was created to enjoy and reflect. (See Isaiah 6:1–5.)
The more I thought about these things, the more I realized that there was nothing that could reconfigure and restore my identity—the distortion was permanent—and I began to realize that there was no reason to think I would not distort my identity even more. Believing there was no distortion or that it wasn't so bad that I couldn't cover over it by my good deeds, even my "Christian" ones, was the lie I needed to keep from really seeing in that mirror.
The Good News
I will say from personal experience that it is only when God graciously holds the mirror of His image in front of us, as painful as that can be, and as much as we don’t want to look, that we will look outside ourselves, outside all the things in this world in which we can find our identity, for a new or different identity.
It’s then that we begin to realize that we are actually for the first time in our lives turning our eyes to the Father God whose loving gaze we had averted in search of an identity apart from Him.
It’s then that we understand in what sense the Bible says that in the face of Christ we come to see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NKJV). We realize Christ took on our human nature and is being offered by the Father to us so that our human nature can be restored through our union in Him whose human “identity” was without any distortion and whose relationship with the Father was as intended in the beginning.
We find our true, intended identity only when we are joined to Christ. That’s the good news. That is amazing grace. It’s profound in a way I had never fully appreciated.
1. Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584, 2593 (2015).
2. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimilie of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Volume 1 (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 130.
3. The first line of the earliest of Christian affirmations, the Apostle’s Creed, professed by Christians for centuries and by some denominations even to this day.
4. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 31.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006.