Identity & Identity Theft November 20, 2010Posted by preacherwin in Reality Check.
Tags: id, idem, identity, identity theft, mid-life crisis, personality, prosopon, re-definition, redefining, who am I, who defines me
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One of the threats within our culture is that of what we call “Identity Theft.” What we mean by that phrase is that someone has discovered enough personal information on you that they can charge things in your name, on your credit card accounts, or by withdrawing from your savings account. But surely our identity cannot be reduced to a list of numbers and bits of data in a computer somewhere? Surely our identity is based on something much more fundamental and important than our financial status.
According to the Oxford American Dictionary, the word Identity refers to “the fact or being of who or what a person is.” The English term is derived from the Latin pronoun, “idem,” meaning, “the same.” Identity is often abbreviated as “ID,” which is reminiscent of the Latin, “id,” which is the 3rd person singlular of the pronoun (it, he, or she). In Biblical Greek, the word pro/swpon (prosopon) seems to convey the same idea, reflecting the entirety of one’s person—one’s physical and personal presence. In fact, when the early church fathers were discussing how to describe the fact that the Trinity contained three persons yet was one in essence, they opted to use the term pro/swpon (prosopon) when speaking of his person and the term oujsi/a (ousia) when speaking of his divine essence.
The question remains, then, if identity is the basis of who you are, how then is that identity derived? Do we define our own identity and thus have the ability to “redefine” ourselves? Or is our identity something that is placed upon us by a power or authority outside of our person? This might, for example, be our parents, who name us and train us up in a particular fashion, or this might be a government that assigns us an identification number—an “id” number—and uses that number to represent the totality of our being in life and culture? Certainly, we might like to lean toward the former, but how is our identity defined and based on that definition, can it genuinely be “stolen” as many speak about?
The modern educational system operates on the mindset that we are makers of our own identity. We encourage “free” thinking, the idea of the “self-made” man (or woman), and that we are autonomous when it comes to our own life. The quirky are celebrated in our culture and are the ones who eventually become trendsetters. We have embraced the idea that a mid-life crisis is not a terrible thing to have take place (as it is a form of re-definition) and we find that it is not uncommon to go as far as to redefine ourselves physically as well as intellectually and emotionally. People do this in minor ways like changing hairstyles or hair color, some take more drastic steps and get tattoos or have their body parts pierced, and some take even more radical steps and opt for elective surgeries and implants—even to the point of changing one’s physical gender through surgery and hormones.
What is striking, though, about the modern educational approach is that while they are teaching students to make their own decisions and define their own person, the very teaching that holds up radical independence as a virtue is a form of authoritatively imposing design on the student’s identity. When you authoritatively state that all students should construct their own identities, that very axiom is a means to conform the person’s mindset to a particular ideology. I point this out not to suggest that it is bad to encourage students (and adults) to think and act for themselves and not simply following blindly along behind an authority or a charismatic leader. Such blind obedience is the way we end up with Germans goose-stepping behind Nazi soldiers and educated Americans following David Koresh to their deaths. Yet at the same time, to affirm the idea of a radically independent self-definition is not intellectually honest as experiences, influences, direction, and other outside factors influence the formation of our identity. Much like a compass that we might follow, for that compass to work, there must be a magnetic north to direct the needle toward an absolute point of reference.
If, to maintain the compass analogy, there is the topography of life that influences the actual path that we take toward our destination, what serves as the fixed and absolute point of reference? My suggestion is that the answer to this question is that God provides that fixed point most specifically in his Son, Jesus Christ. For the Christian this should be pretty much a given, but I would submit that God also provides the fixed point for the unbeliever as well, though the unbeliever seeks to reject the direction to their own destruction. It is destruction because as we are made in God’s image and Christ provides us with the perfection of that image, fleeing from Christ is also fleeing from being all we are designed to be, pursuing a continued undoing of that image that God has placed within us. Yet, as the image of God within us is what makes us human in the very first place, then an undoing of that image within us is an unravelling of our very human nature, reducing us little by little to the level of animals.
Thus, if the development of our personality is both directed by an outside source and participated in by the decisions we make, then we should pose the final question as to whether that identity can be stolen. The answer to that question must, by definition be, “no.” Certainly, our identity may be mimicked and our governmental identification numbers can be stolen and abused, but who I am is not marked or determined by the numbers floating around in cyberspace by which the government or my bank might know me. Who I am is held by God and thus is held secure by God in whose hands I am positively held. To suggest that if someone steals my social security number and banking numbers is to steal my identity is to reduce who I am to nothing more than a statistic…something to which we must not allow our culture to reduce us.
Love God with All (Mark 12:30) December 24, 2008Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, The Greatest Commandment (Mark 12).
Tags: Deuteronomy 6:5, dichotomy, Heart, Jesus and the LXX, Life, Love God, Mark 12:30, mind and spirit, passions, personality, psyche, spirit or soul, strength, trichotomy, understanding
“And you will love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your life, and with all of your understanding, and with all of your strength.”
Jesus continues the passage with an explanation of what it means to be committed to God as Wnyheloa/ (Elohinu), or “our God.” And Jesus says that the way we live this out is by fully committing ourselves to God’s adoration and service. The first section of this passage is a direct quote of the LXX, the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, yet, it would seem, at the initial onset, that Jesus has added to the text as we move to the latter half of what Jesus is teaching, but we will address that as we get to that section.
Jesus begins with the command from Deuteronomy 6:5 to love the Lord our God with all of our heart. In the modern, Greek, mindset (remembering that our way of thinking is predominantly influenced by Greek thought, not Hebrew thought), the heart is the seat of the emotions or passions. Thus, when many of us read this line initially, we immediately assume Jesus to be commanding us to love Yahweh with all of our passion. While Jesus certainly does command us to love Yahweh with our passions, that is not what he means by heart. In the Hebrew mindset, the heart was the seat of one’s personality and reason. If a Hebrew person wanted to speak of one’s passions alone, he would talk about something as being from our bowels (I can’t figure out why Hallmark hasn’t picked up on that idea—I can just see the Valentine’s Day cards now; I love you with all of my bowels, dear…). Thus, the command that is being given is that everything that makes you a reasoning human being—the whole of your personality, if you will—is to be dedicated to the love of God. This would include, then, not only your reason and intellect, but also those little quirks that make you who you are. Beloved, have you ever considered the fact that you are to love God with your idiosyncrasies? They are part of your very makeup, thus, they are designed to be used by you to the glory of God!
Jesus continues with the command that we are to love God with all of our life. This is the Greek term yuch/ (psuche), which is the word from which our English word “psyche” comes. Many of our English translations will translate this word as “soul,” but I have opted to translate this as “life” out of deference to the Hebrew word that yuch/ (psuche) is being used to translate in this case. The Hebrew term is the word vp,n< (nephesh), which refers to all that which gives life to and animates the body. It is variously translated as life, breath, and even soul, but it is distinct from the word x;Wr (ruach), which means “spirit.” In modern English, we don’t normally distinguish between the idea of a soul and of a spirit, so to preserve the Hebrew distinction, I have opted to translate this as life. In Hebrew, the spirit is understood much in the same way as we understand a spirit today, but the soul was intimately bound to giving your physical body life, and hence our translation. Thus, the idea being communicated in this first half of Jesus’ statement is not a dichotomy between the passions of man and the soul of man, but a united image of how we are to love God with our personality and with all that gives us life and breath in this world. We are to be wholly committed to Yahweh, our God.
Now, as we look back to Deuteronomy 6:5, from which Jesus is quoting, we find a peculiar difference. The Hebrew concludes with a third command, that we are to love God with all of our daom. (meod), or, literally, all of our “veriness.” The idea expressed, by making the adverb “very” into a noun, is that of applying all of your abundance, all of your blessings, and all of the external things that God has put into your life toward the worship of God. All of the rich blessings that have come to you in this world, as they have come from God, are to be used and applied toward the love of God. That raises an important question for all of us—how are we using those blessings? How do we use our vacation time; how do we use our savings; how do we use the finances that we have been afforded; and how do we use the retirements that God has given to us? Beloved, we are often guilty of applying these things—these things that make up our “veriness”—toward our own ends and not for the love of God. How we need to regularly look at our lives and see just how we are using the blessings that God has afforded us.
Yet, Jesus does not use this language, nor is he quoting from the Greek LXX, which reads, all of our du/namiß (dunamis)—or might (dunamis is the word from which we get the English word, “dynamite”). Instead, Jesus breaks this final command into two separate parts: dia/noia (dianoia) or understanding and ijscuß (ischus) or strength. My initial response was that maybe Jesus was breaking up the language of vp,n< (nephesh), or life, as yuch/ (psuche) and dia/noia (dianoia) and replacing du/namiß (dunamis) with ijscuß (ischus). Thus, the idea of life would be expressed by both life and mind or soul and mind and power would be changed to reflect the idea of strength. The problem with this interpretation is two-fold. First of all, it seems odd that Jesus would add the word dia/noia (dianoia) to yuch/ (psuche) when yuch/ (psuche) is a direct quote of the Greek LXX. Secondly, given that Matthew does not record Jesus as saying ijscuß (ischus) at all, but ends with dia/noia (dianoia). Matthew, being a good Jew, would have been intimately familiar with the text and importance of Deuteronomy 6:5 and it would have been very unlikely that he would neglect to record an element therein.
That leads us with one other reasonable alterative, and that is to understand Jesus as expanding on the idea of our loving God with all of our daom. (meod), or veriness. Instead of using the LXX translation, then, we see Jesus giving his own translation of daom. (meod) into Greek by using two terms: dia/noia (dianoia) and ijscuß (ischus). In other words, Jesus is saying that for us to worship God with all of our abundance, or veriness, requires us to do so with our mental capacity, or dia/noia (dianoia), and our physical capacity, or ijscuß (ischus). In other words, all of the energy we might expend, to accomplish all that we do in this life, we are called upon to use to love God. We are to think about God, reason about God, meditate about God, and then the work of our hands—as mighty as that work may be, must too be done for the glory and love of God. Indeed, this translation would capture the idea of the abundance that God has given us (as that abundance so often comes through the labors of our hands and/or our minds).
Thus, Jesus, in quoting Moses here, leaves no stone unturned when being asked the question of how we are to express our love and adoration for God on high—every inch of our life is to be devoted to God’s glory regardless of our career, trade, or background. Does this mean that all should be preachers and missionaries? Certainly not! Yet, this does mean that whatever you do, whether hobby, curiosity, or career, should be done to the glory of God. Dear friends, I wonder, can we say this about our own lives? Can we say that the way we have ordered our career or the way we have spent our leisure time is designed to glorify God? Oh, beloved, how we should look deeply at our hearts, our lives, and our efforts and ask ourselves, “how is God glorified in this.” And then, when an answer is shown, work diligently to change how we live our days so as to submit ourselves to the challenge of Jesus’ words. May our lives be lived all for the glory and honor of God alone.