WE DON’T KNOW WHO WE ARE
Written by Doug Ponder on February 1, 2015
What Arbitrary Thing Are You?
It’s difficult to do anything on social media without bumping into a “Which _____ are you?” quiz.
“Which Disney princess are you?”
“What state do you actually belong in?”
“What mental age are you?”
“Which pet should you actually have?”
“What period of history do you really belong in?”
“What food matches your personality?
And my personal favorite: “What arbitrary thing are you?”
Similar “personality quizzes” have been around as long as pop-culture magazines, offering readers a brief distraction from the of dullness of daily life. They were formerly restricted to magazines and tabloids, but now they are all but omnipresent. Why is this? In our world of ever-increasing sources of entertainment, why have (poorly made) personality quizzes become so trendy? I think the meteoric rise in popularity of personality quizzes is not an accident. Rather, it is a movement that reveals something significant about us: we don’t know who we are anymore, and we are dying for someone to tell us. Even an impersonal quiz made by a stranger.
We Don’t Know Who we Are
The trend is not limited to “Which ____ are you?” quizzes. The number of Meyers-Briggs ministry books is skyrocketing, too. It seems that we sense a deep need to know who we are, yet we are simultaneously unaware that we have this need. In other words, we feel empty without recognizing the emptiness for what it is. We experience the symptoms of an illness without realizing that we are ill.
David Wells, the Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, offers a compelling portrayal of our plight. Describing all who are confused and searching, he writes, “Their self-esteem is high but their self is empty… They are unhappy, but they can’t find a cause for their unhappiness. They are more connected to more people through the Internet, and yet they have never felt more lonely. They want to be accepted and yet they often feel alienated” (Wells, God in the Whirlwind, p. 22-23).
How did we get here? Wells explains that our confusion is what happens we grow up being told, “You can be anything you want to be,” without first knowing who we already are.
But God Knows
But how can we know who we are? Isn’t that the problem that needs to be solved? The answer is refreshingly simple. We can know who we are because God has told us. He made us (Gen. 1:27; Col. 1:16). He knew us before we were born (Jer. 1:5; Psalm 139:15). And he determined the time and place of our existence (Acts 17:26).
All this means we are not an accident left to “create meaning” or purpose for lives. God has loved us before the foundations of the world were laid (Eph. 1:4-5), and he created us so that we might taste and see how great it is to be loved by a God so good (Ps. 38:4; Acts 17:27).
Our problem, therefore, is that we have turned away from the name God has given us and sought to define ourselves instead. This is the epitome of self-centeredness, an imploding spiral that only leads to despair and death.
Some feel that they are defined by their past, stuck forever with sins that, scarlet-letter like, brand them with indelible scars. Others believe they are defined by their present circumstances. “You are what you do,” they think to themselves—which, if they’re honest about their actions and desires, is utterly depressing news. And it’s not much better for those who seek to define themselves by their future. They are living today in order to become somebody tomorrow, which really means that they must a “nobody” (so they think) right now.
God’s solution to our sin-induced confusion is this: Jesus gives us a new name. In him our name is Loved. In him our name is Forgiven. In him our name is Clean. In him our name is Redeemed. In him our name is Free. In him our name is Child.
When we define ourselves according to the work of Jesus, we are set free from the slavery of self-definitions according to our own works. So instead of obsessing over what we’ve done in the past, what we are inclined to do in the present, or what we hope to do in the future, we should look instead to the grace of Jesus, who has forgiven us (Col. 2:13-14), is personally with us (Matt. 28:20), and will one day come again to receive us to himself (John 14:3).
So instead of wasting five minutes looking into “Which Disney villain are you?”, remember that you’d be better off looking to Jesus. He has already told you who you are, and who you are is His—even if you’re the worst villain on the quiz (1 Pet. 3:18).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.