The post-truth world: clarity amidst the confusion about identity
by Abdu Murray
I have never been confused about my identity. But I have been mistaken. When I was a Muslim, I was sure that an all-powerful, all-knowing God created me to serve him and do enough good deeds to prove myself worthy of his mercy and eventually his paradise. There did come a time, however, when I was uncertain about who I would eventually be. You see, the credibility of classical Christianity confronted me and the gospel I once derided as nonsense looked more credible by the day. That gospel told me something very different about who I am and who God is.
The more solid Christianity’s ground became, the more seasick I felt. I didn’t want Christianity to be the fixed point of reference by which my world – especially my identity – was measured. And for most of my nine-year search, my identity was simply too much to risk. But as the near decade-long sojourn brought me within an oar’s length of the gospel truth’s shoreline, I was beckoned to embrace the gospel no matter the cost. In those last months and weeks, my mind’s ear could hear Jesus repeating, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). Perhaps that’s why I’m sensitive to those caught in the identity tug-of-war that seems to have gripped Western culture.
The Bible liberates us from the anxiety by focusing on the objective reality of our identity. Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” The uniquely biblical understanding of who and what we are allows us to embrace unity and diversity. The unity is that we all bear the divine image. The diversity is found in the fact that the male bears this image in his maleness and the female bears that very same image in her femaleness. God himself, being a triune being who is one in his nature and three in his consciousness, is a unified diversity. What a glorious privilege we are afforded to reflect the splendor of God himself!
This is where materialistic atheism falls so disappointingly short. If we are only matter in motion, then we lose all sense of identity. Our professions become meaningless. Doctors are no more than expensively educated mechanics. Mechanics are nothing more than flesh robots working on metal robots. If we are just advanced chimps, then judges and police officers are reduced zookeepers who keep the other monkeys from biting each other.
But God has given us more than just words about who and what we are. He has acted to prove who we are. Only a moment’s viewing of the news reveals that humanity is in desperate need of a saviour who is not us, to save us from ourselves. As a matter of history –not just hope –God provided that Saviour. Powerful historical evidence shows that Jesus not only died on the cross to pay the debt we owe to God, but he also rose from the dead to provide us with life. We know something’s value by the price that is paid for it. Christ’s historic cross tells us that we have an infinite value because an infinite price was paid for us. The historic resurrection proves that Christ’s payment is real. This frees us to know who we truly are. We lose our artificial identities – those that we have constructed for ourselves – so that we can gain a restored identity in Christ.
But the journey remains difficult. Before I became a Christian, my identity was steeped in the religion of Islam. That’s why the journey to Christ took nine years for me. The truth wasn’t hard to find. But it was hard to embrace. I understand what it means to take one’s profoundly-felt identity and desire and submit them to Christ.
In her poem, “The Prisoner”, Emily Bronte depicts a woman who is taunted by her jailer and a mocker. But she comes to realize her identity is found in God and loses her spiritual chains. Seeing the prisoner’s sacred identity, her mocker says:
She ceased to speak, and we, unanswering, turned to go – We had no further power to work the captive woe:
Her cheek, her gleaming eye, declared that man had given
A sentence, unapproved, and overruled by Heaven.
Only the Lord of glory sums up the answer to humanity’s struggle for identity: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). May we all find our selves and our lives in him.
Abdu Murray is the North American Director with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and the author of three books, including his latest, Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World.