Professor John Lennox was speaking at Kilmallie Free Church last Sunday. During his morning address, he spoke briefly about the importance of stories for forming our identity. To illustrate his point he used the example of people who suddenly begin to suffer from amnesia (perhaps due to a head injury). For the amnesiac, forgetting the past means uncertainty of who they are. Professor Lennox put it this way:
You have to build up their concept of who they are by telling them about incidents that happened in their past.
To me, this is an excellent illustration of how as Christians our identity is shaped by a knowledge of God’s purposes in history. As Christians, we build up our concept of who we are by telling and retelling the stories of God’s people, by telling the stories of incidents that have happened in our past. Not ‘our past’ as individuals, but as part of the People of God (Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 10, for example). We build up our concept of who we are by understanding the story of the People of God, the story of the Messiah, the story of the Church. As the Church, we have a story that undergirds our identity. Buying into the false stories of the world (any story embedded in culture, whether in the arts, in politics or in science which is at odds with God’s revealed truth) will weaken our identity – we will never truly understand who we really are. Our task as the Church is to redeem art, politics and science in all their richness and meaning by understanding them within the true story of God’s purposes.
When we are new to the faith, in the early days and months of following Jesus, we are in a sense amnesiacs. We have to find a new identity. It’s a new identity rooted in the old in important ways (we still remain ‘us’), but it’s recovering things that have been lost (not necessarily lost in our experience, but lost in us as human beings). It’s recovering a true, healthy identity. The real ‘us’ in Jesus Christ. That’s why I think the analogy of amnesia is really quite powerful. We have no memory or experience of what it is to be truly human until we become disciples of Jesus Christ.
It struck me quite forcefully on Sunday that we don’t only tell stories of the past, but of the future. Our certain hope, which we read about in Romans 8 last Sunday evening – of the return of Messiah, the resurrection, our full adoption as children of God, and of a redeemed creation – this too is part of the story that forms our identity. We don’t just build up our concept of who we are by telling about incidents that happened in our past, but also about incidents that will happen in our future.