Imagine you slept last night with the window cracked, and this morning as the sky grew light, you heard a persistent bird on a tree branch outside. It must have been a new bird in the neighborhood, because it was a tune you hadn’t heard, one haunting melody whistled again and again. Imagine you got up and showered, still with that simple tune floating around in your head, but as soon as you started the car and the radio came to life, there it was again: the exact same notes. Weird, right? But then imagine you arrived at work, and the person in the next cubicle was humming it. And then your neighbor’s phone. And a barista, whistling it three hours later. Twilight Zone, for sure.
Sometimes I have that sensation. Multiple conversations with different people revert back to the same theme. Online chatter swirls around it. Cultural events echo it once more.
Everything is connected.
This week my déjà vu comes in the haunting song of fractured identity. I hear it in individuals: in the broken heart of my young anorexic friend and the lament of an uprooted divorcé. I hear it across society: in the rampant gender wars, our pervasive dysphorias, the immigrant’s plight, and the perpetual segregation of our people. I hear it in the church—questions of vocation and purpose and roles. It’s everywhere.
Who am I? Who are you? How are we meant to live?
It seems to me so striking that our never-fully-answered howl goes up before a God who names himself simply, “I am.”
He alone is content with that plain statement, and does not wriggle under his own self-examination. He needs no qualifiers, no sentence-finishers. His name itself is complete. We get from two words a picture of God as content, confident, and wholly enough. He is not grasping, as we are, or ashamed, boastful or fractured. He just is.
God is so very different from us. We hate ourselves, compare ourselves, puff up, put down, distort, wear masks, deceive, exclude, reject, divide. Almost all of our national dysfunctions come down to our discontented, broken identity. Who are we? We have no idea.
I love that throughout the Bible God’s people identify themselves as “sojourners.” They are the wandering ones, far from home, but heading, always, to Zion. They’re quick on their feet, ready at a moment’s notice to pack it in and head out. They are the original RVers. Here are a people who might as well name themselves “Homesick,” whose primary attributes include longing and waiting.
They know: it is easier to cling to God when your hands are empty. It’s easier to be rich in love when you’re poor in spirit. It’s easier to resist the quicksand prejudices of culture when this world is not your home. They hold loosely; they travel light. And God, for His part, sojourns with them.
As Jen Pollock Michel points out, God’s first home among His people was not temple, but tabernacle. Think of it—God living in a Coleman tent. He gifts His people with His presence, a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night—and with them, He hits the road. He’s not afraid of wilderness; in fact, He almost seems to prefer it. (As any camper can tell you, in the wilderness you can really see the stars.)
Maybe the sojourner identity is the one great solution to our culture’s many woes. I am not, after all, Queen of the Castle. I am Child of the King. (And just like that, there go pettiness, scorn, self-centeredness and pride.)
I am Not Home Yet, therefore, I do not have more rights than you. (There go nativism, suspicion, hostility, and flotillas of homeless refugees.)
I am not Defined by my Past; I am Defined by my Father. Therefore, I don’t have to grovel like a worm, I can relax as Beloved. On the other hand, I am not In Search of a New and Better Self. I am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. (And now we’re whole.)
Listen to the people around you speak. Do you hear that same tune piping over the loudspeaker of someone’s fractured heart?
“I’m the black sheep of my family.”
“I’m trying to find myself.”
“I just don’t fit anywhere.”
And then listen to David.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you….
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
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