Lost and found
The Rectory, June 1997
I vaguely remember seeing two films. The first was about a man who went away from his home and family for a prolonged period. Coming back again, he found another man living under his name and accepted by everyone as the real husband and father. The nightmare continued as he tried to prove who he was, but nothing was finally conclusive. In the end he himself began to believe that he was mistaken, that he must be somebody else, and he began to descend into madness. The film picked up a deep-seated fear that who I am is not entirely secure, not entirely in my possession, and that I could lose hold on my own sense of myself as a person.
The second film told the story of a drifter who turns up in a village and is mistaken for someone people thought was dead. He is accepted into the community and into the dead man's family. The person he resembles was much loved and respected, and gradually the drifter really "becomes" the person that people think he is. Perhaps that film was exploring the possibility that we are made, and unmade, as much by the way people view us and treat us as we are by our own acts and decisions. There is an important element of truth in this which ought to inform the way we treat growing children and those who offend.
This sense that who we are is not entirely within our own possession is reflected in the Bible. There, the important thing about being a person is being known by God. It is God's knowledge of you that gives you an identity, and God's knowledge of you is something that you have to grow up into by being open to God and learning from him who you are. Psalm 139 is the most profound expression of this sense of being known by God:
1 John 3:2 also suggests that we are not yet complete as persons and that our future identity lies in Christ:
This understanding is expressed in the Baptism service where a child or adult is given a name. They are named by God, known by God, and in this is their hope. All this is important for our understanding about people. I think particularly of those who have an impaired sense of themselves, those who suffer from Altzheimer's Disease or those whose memory or personality is damaged through accidental injury. They seem to drift away from us, their former identity lost and unobtainable. The Christian hope is in God's knowledge of them. If this is the key to who we are, then who they are is still held by God and awaiting them as a gift. They are not lost because they no longer have a hold on themselves, for having a grasp of ourselves is not the essence of who we are. As God gave them life by knowing and loving them, so he can give them again the person they are, and indeed the person they are to become in Christ, when they are able to receive it. Actually this is true for all of us, for none of us is yet complete.
A similar understanding shapes a Christian view of death. What is indestructible is not some inner bit of me, but God's knowledge and love of me. It is in his gift to give me back to myself. This is resurrection.