In the Bible, when Moses asks God what his name is, God replies with a puzzling answer: “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (see Exodus 3:11-15)
Who talks like that?
We do, sort of, when we shrug our shoulders and say, “It is what it is.”
But what does it mean, and why is it helpful?
It means that God is what He is. He is absolute being. He alone has uncreated, everlasting existence. He’s always been–He has no beginning. He always will be–He has no end. That’s an awesome thought–and worth using as your name if that’s what you really are.
We’re obviously not like that. Our existence comes from somewhere–it has a beginning: our parents. Their existence, likewise, is derived–it comes from their parents. And so on, until we arrive at absolute Existence, the Creator of all things.
Our culture is currently having a serious discussion–some would say a crisis–revolving around identity. We deeply care, as we should, about the question: Who am I?. What identities are allowable? Who gets to decide? If your claimed identities cancel mine, who will arbitrate our claims? And on what grounds will they decide?
We’ll answer these questions in radically different ways as we struggle. My answer might be very different from yours. Hopefully we can charitably have the conversation, even if we disagree.
Culturally, we’re looking inside our selves for the answer: Who am I?. We’re on a quest of discovery to sort our our feelings largely based on our personal preferences–things we like or dislike. “Follow your heart.” “You do you.” And if anyone questions these sacred words, beware–they may be oppressing you.
As a Christian, I think a better way to true flourishing is to look outside ourselves to answer this question–to God, to his creative order, to our familial and communal relationships. Perhaps a better answer to Who are you? is Son, Father, Brother, Uncle than Nurse, Pastor, Woodworker, Colts fan. For the relational identities are external and permanent. They don’t change when we retire or our bodies fail. They can’t even be severed by death itself.
[Note: Christianity provides a family in the Church. So these relational identities are always accessible, even to those who have no family. Indeed, Christianity prioritizes the Church family even higher than our earthly families (Matthew 12:46-50).]
So, to help you answer your question: Who am I?, Look outside your inward thoughts and feelings–FIRST, Vertically to I AM. Your existence comes from Him. He is Our Father. SECOND look outside yourself horizontally and deeply consider your familial titles–how they deliver identity to your inner life. It’s very possible that becoming an Uncle is more important than a promotion at work–it’s certainly more stable and permanent. Your ‘I am’ comes primarily from I AM (God) and We ARE (Family, especially Church Family). Career, citizenship, hobbies, favorite football teams, food preferences, etc. should all pale in comparison to these.