Who Am I? Identity Shaped by the Acts of God

Stanley Hauerwas, one of my favorite theologians (who, in 2001 Time Magazine called him “America’s Best Theologian”), is known for making the statement, “We [Americans] live at a time when we believe we should have no story, except the story we chose when we had no story. We call this freedom."* At first glance, most readers will go “huh?” to what Hauerwas said. But, at a closer look, there is a depth of meaning to what he is saying.

One aspect of what Hauerwas is saying is that American believe their identity is characterized (shaped) by personal choices. A result of this belief is that Americans often think their identity is shaped by their own choices. Americans hold fast to this motto of freedom. A freedom understood to be the ability to choose what I want, when I want, and nobody can tell me otherwise. But, tucked in the recess of what Hauerwas is saying is this understanding of American identity is shaped by a false belief — a belief that each of our lives is shaped in a vacuum — that nothing else has a push, pull, or tug on how we make decisions for our lives.

I think what Hauerwas is saying is true. No person, nation, or culture is shaped by itself. We all come from somewhere, as the adage goes. To think that nothing came before us, is to live in a false reality. This is true, whether we are talking about what makes up the identity of an American from a Canadian, or what makes up a city person from a country-person. And, this is not just a reality for sociological dynamic, but a reality of the Bible and of God’s people, as well.

In Psalm 105, we read David’s words, “He [God] remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: ‘To you I will give the and of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.’” David also goes on to capture the ways in which God led Israel into Egypt, out of Egypt, and into the Promised Land — to make them into the people they are in David’s time.

David realizes that Israel is what and who it is, because of the acts of God that went before them. And, David realizes that his life is what it is, because he is a part of Israel and it’s history. Israel didn’t just choose who it would become out of a vacuum.

It didn’t just choose to be God’s people. Rather, God chose Israel, and it’s people were shaped by that choice. Also, David didn’t chose to be king out of a vacuum. Rather, God chose David, and his life was shaped by that choice. There is a lot that happened to both Israel and David before either became who they were. 

The same with us today. All of us come from somewhere. What is your story? And, who or what has shaped who you are — your identity? Moreover, is your identity, like Israel and David, shaped by God and his acts? Is your life shaped by God’s Son, and his work through his family — the church on earth?

Today, I encourage you to consider your story. How do you, like David, remember where you come from, and who and what has shaped you to be God’s child? If you are a spouse or a parent, how do you daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly remember where you come from? Where is God’s story of working through Christ, part of your story? Does God’s story shape your life? Does God’s story shape how you describe your identity your neighbors, your classmates, or your co-workers?

We are who we are, because we are shaped by a story far bigger than our own. As we reflect on the story of the Bible, we should stop and consider if we are shaped by God’s story as well — are we shaped by God’s movement in our life? And, if so, how do we regularly remember and show witness to that reality? 

* Stanley Hauerwas, Abundant Life