The West is obsessed with finding meaning, specifically as it relates to finding our individual meaning and purpose in the world. Whether it’s the rise of Jordan Peterson and his “Self Authoring” program, or the thousands of pastors and politicians offering their unique paths to discovering purpose in life, we are awash in a cultural milieu of “understanding, then sharing, our story.”
You will often hear in Christian circles that we should “find our identity in Christ.” I suppose that’s all fine and dandy and a general reminder that all aspects of our lives should revolve around Christ, but what does this catchphrase really even mean? Maybe I’m slow and my mental faculties are lacking, but for the dozens of sermons I’ve heard on the topic, I must admit that I’m still no clearer on what it means to “find my identity in Christ” than when I heard my first sermon on the topic.
In my estimation, there are a handful of foundational flaws in the attempts to describe what it means to “find my identity in Christ”. These are:
– a forgetfulness that we dealing with infinity;
– a reduction of infinity to manageable categories;
– a misplaced confidence that our brand’s (i.e. denomination’s) categories are both exhaustive and unquestionably authoritative.
It is my observation that these flaws have created the prevailing attitude which I witness in Evangelicalism, namely, that we can pull God down to our level, categorize Him as we see best fit, then confidently go about being ambassadors for our denomination’s unique taxonomies. The current climate of Christianity in America resembles a people who have transformed the infinite God into our spiritual Mount Everest, which we are determined to summit, scale and conquer. Sure there are dangers along the way and immensely difficult challenges to overcome, but once we scale Him and reach the summit, we return to the lowlands, confidently declaring to the world the successes of our exploits, articulating how we have amazingly reduced infinity into unique vision statements and core beliefs and cool church names.
If this is too abstract a concept for you, imagine this in terms of a visit to the Grand Canyon. There you stand on the edge of perhaps the most jaw-dropping grandiosity available for mankind’s eyes to behold, the tips of your toes inches from a thousand foot plunge to your death. You are breathless and overwhelmed. Your palms become a bit sweaty. Suddenly, you spot a hawk effortlessly gliding in the span below, dancing on the invisible thermal winds rising from the canyon’s floor. You feel tingly. The sound and whistles of the wind enhance your amazement, and you just can’t believe how big the whole thing is and how small you actually are. For that brief moment you are barely beginning to dip your toe into the sense of what it means to be finite and infinitesimally small. You are getting the ever-so-slightest and minuscule brush with the outer, outer, outer edges of infinity. Simply put, you are experiencing the magnificence of awe.
Then out of nowhere, some well-intentioned, pontificating windbag pierces the awe that naturally arose merely from you barely brushing the outer, outer, outer (times a gazillion) edges of infinity and declares, “Well, I know it looks impressive, but let me fill you in on all the details of how the canyon actually formed. It’s all really quite simple to be honest. Here, take my pamphlet that explains the geography, erosion timeframe, exact dimensions of the canyon and more.”
If you’re like me, you would likely tell him to “shut up!”, so you could get back to enjoying the immensity before you.
And, this, in my observation of being in the church for 20+ years, is how Evangelical leaders continually deal with the immense, unsearchable, and infinite God of the Bible. They are the piercing (sometimes annoying and distracting) voice that too often interrupts our brush with the outer, outer, outer (times a billion gazillion) edges of infinity. They forget the fact that getting a glimpse of infinity is itself sufficient to spontaneously engender worship in the heart.
When jaw-dropping awe of the infinite God is not the foundation of our faith, we wield categories carelessly, callously and confidently. When mind-boggling awe of the infinite God is the foundation of what it means to be a Christian, our handling of categories comes with trembling, caution and trepidation.
Hophni and Phinehas capture the former; a shoeless, awestruck Moses the latter.
Sooo…to get at answering the question posed in the title of this post, my current definition of what it means to be a Christian and “find my identity in Christ” is quite direct: to be awestruck at infinity and even more awestruck at the God who measures said infinity with the span of His fingers.
For me, this currently includes two main categories (wink, wink and LOL):
1) Marveling at Christ
– His humility;
– His patience;
– His love for the outcast and despised;
– His rejection of human power structures;
– His meekness and repeated disinterest in attention.
2) Marveling at Creation
– considering the incomprehensible size of the universe;
– sitting for 5 minutes at lunch and rejoicing at the dancing clouds in the sky;
– considering rain;
– contemplating that my body has as many miles of blood vessels in it, as double the number of highway miles in United States;
– considering the huge size disparity of the moon and sun, while yet observing they appear exactly the same size during an eclipse;
– observing my kids running around and being awed by just that – that they are my kids and that they are running around!
These lists could go on and on and on and on. I encourage you to make some “marvel/awe lists” of your own. For you professional theological taxonomers out there, this is not an assault on categories, but rather an assault on the callous, confident, awe-less attitude towards the infinite God which is so prevalent in Christianity today. Our purpose is not to worship theological taxonomies, but the God from whom any and all taxonomies spring. I wish I didn’t have to include this disclaimer at all, but knowing how reactionary and defensive some full-time ministry folk can be, I feel it is needed, in order to hopefully get this one, final main point across: Christianity does not need more categories, it needs more awe.