We continue our series on…
The A- Z of the Christian Faith
I is for Identity.
This may seem a very strange subject for our letter “I”. After all, most of the other letters are about God, or Jesus or else the Sacraments, like Baptism or Confirmation – God or the Church, its sacraments or scriptures. But it is important to remember sometimes who we are, those of us who try to love God, who pray to Him, and make up the Church of Jesus Christ. It is individual men, women, and children who worship God, are baptized and come to communion – and so on. Always, as the church, we are a body of individuals – and each one of us is unique.
If we look at all the stories in Scripture, we see that God deals both individually with people, and with the whole people, Israel or the Church. God’s relationship with each person mentioned is different – their calling, what is given to them, and what is expected of them. (However, because the writers of scripture were men we hear very little about God’s dealings with women – unless they were related to an important man!)
The book of Psalms, whoever the writer or writers, is actually prayers and songs for an individual, and for many of us, all these centuries later, it is the Psalms which show us the depths of God’s dealings with the individual – both as a person and as a member of a group. The experience and the wisdom in them is timeless. However devout and God fearing a person is, they are bound to fall away from God at times, and sometimes will realize this and repent. At other times, God will seem very far away, or completely absent. This may be because a person is suffering illness or misfortune, or there may be no apparent reason for it. Sometimes the individual is full of praise and thanksgiving to God, aware of his goodness and mercy. Longing for God and wishing to do his will, to be heroic in God’s service, is another strong desire to be found there. And sometimes what the individual feels is bewilderment at what goes on in life – why are the wicked doing well, and the good people suffering? Rage and anger come out at other times (Psalm 58 is really hardly anything else) either at God himself, or at other people that the Psalmist wants to see punished.
Each one of us has a very complex inner life and outer life. We have many roles and relationships – some which connect with each other and others which don’t. Our thoughts and feelings, related to our character and experiences, are mostly unknown to anyone else except God. Even the closest friend only knows us up to a point. There are deeds that only we can do, friendships only we can have, and prayers that only we can pray. However, just as all of us want to be recognized as unique, important and irreplaceable – which we are – that is not the whole story. People nowadays talk about needing “space”. This usually means distance from someone else, who is felt to be swamping them. But if all we have is space, then we are isolated and alone. Our humanity and our faith both show us that the “I”, the individual must be honoured, but it is impossible never to be “we”. God himself, we believe, is “three in one”. God is, within his unity, a relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – all the person of the Godhead special, unique and distinct, but related through love and common purpose. That is what I and you, we are called to imitate.