Are we to glean our esteem from self and others? If yes, may that not become a significance crisis? Very likely, and it has.
This is a prequel to an earlier post of mine – “From Whence Comes My Identity.”
“I am not who I think I am. I am not who other people think I am. I am who I think other people think I am.”
Is the above not so? If not, why do we argue with ourselves over it so often? And so it goes. On and on. Is there no end to it? Is there no peace to be gained, no resolution?
Who are you? What is your most important need? Are your desires the desires of your own heart? What gives you satisfaction? Do you have a sense of self-significance in your world? Why is that never enough? Are all of your personal questions answered to your satisfaction? How long will that satisfaction last? What is your identity? what is your significance? Life seems to be an endless series of questions.
For a thinking person the questions that seem to recur over and over in a lifetime are of our significance and our true identity, as well as a longing for meaning. What is life all about and how do I fit into the overall scheme of things?
Truth and search for significance is mankind’s ongoing quest in life from generation to generation upon this earth. And a relatively late burst of technological intellectualism has not diminished that need for meaning in the least.
There is something that comes wrapped in the package of who we are that gives us a drive to delve deeper into things – anything – everything. Superficial answers don’t always satisfy. Sound bites fed from the entertainment or news media are instant, constant and easily recalled, but without real substance.
In this package of our being there is an ineffable something born in us that tells us there is much more to our identity than the image we behold in the mirror. With a significance so deep it becomes a mystery that eludes us, so we try to paint it with the cosmetics of this world — glossing over the surface so that it hides the mystery.
Adding pride, pleasure, possession, position, power and wealth, or any accomplishment in no way helps. Nothing physical can add or detract from who we are. This intrinsic identity goes deeper. I have heard of celebrities who reached the pinnacle of their field only to look around and ask, “Is this all there is? Is this all I am?” Their emptiness still lacked a sense of identity or value. And success often just intensified that awareness.
In the Bible’s Old Testament there is a small book by the title of Ecclesiastes that analyzes this very subject of mankind’s search for meaning. It paints a portrait of how their historical, redundant search for it is in all the wrong places. From the books beginning the author states that everything is meaningless. Quite a declaration from a book in the Bible – which is often known as being a source of hope and uplifting optimism. I have heard some Christians say they stopped reading Ecclesiastes after the first chapter because the book was too dark or depressing. But the author – Solomon – from the first few verses is trying to rivet our attention. We may pause to ask: What is meaningless, O King? Life? Solomon’s answer is yes! The self-prescribed way man tends to live his life upon this earth, generation after generation, is – meaningless. Without lasting purpose.
Solomon was a man put in a great position by God as King over Israel. He was also given of God not only great wisdom, but added were great wealth, power, and influence over other nations. He was also given peace from wars on all his borders. Altogether this provided him with the mental and physical resources to study, investigate, analyze and explore the deeper questions of mankind’s nature and life itself. However, resulting from those things often came unmeasured pleasures and a burden of pride.
There being no wars during his reign, Solomon had much leisure time on his hands to pursue other things. Such was the intellectual study of human nature. Using his God given wisdom and insights, He systematically investigated by observation and experience, mankind’s habitual way of living life and seeking meaningful significance from material gain. His ultimate conclusion is that a person living only for – or overly entrenched in – the material world is a life lived empty of true and lasting measure, and without any true sense of identity. But yet it is the habit people acquire in building a style of life. It seems to be learned as we observe others, taking their values as our own. And it seems to be universal to all mankind.
However, Solomon doesn’t leave us with the empty vanities he mentions in Ecclesiastes. He provides an alternative to a life devoid of true meaning in the last chapter when we are told: “ …Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13
I call the book of Ecclesiastes the arrow that shoots an arc over nine hundred years and points directly to the Gospels of the New Testament, leading directly to the Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the sure way to healing of a pointless and empty existence. Living an abundant life, Jesus calls it. (John 10:10)
Christ is the alternative to an emptiness that indwells so many who have been enlightened to a great need from within. A deeply abiding and growing abyss of an internal wilderness, which cannot be provisioned by anything of this world. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in You.”
For the Christian who has become side-tracked a little too far back into the world’s empty siren song, Ecclesiastes is the reminder of how far they have fallen from their first Love, and points the way back to the Grace that first brought them to Him. An identity in Christ is an identity for eternity – once put on it is never put off.
If you are generally satisfied with the state of your life, I hope it’s because you know the Savior. If you are satisfied living your life by your own wit and wiles, so be it. If you’re not, the Savior calls. And tho you may feel like you found Him, you have actually only stumbled upon the Obvious, Who has always been in plain sight and calling to you by name.
1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
That question begs an answer from every generation.
Some further thoughts on our significance through our identity in Christ from C.S. Lewis. His thoughts on the individuality of personalities(souls). His insight here, I believe, is germane to the discussion.
C.S Lewis on individual personality(souls):
This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one.
Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock.
Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.
For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s.
All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction.
The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love.
Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.
From The Problem of Pain
Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis