Perhaps one of the major reasons the Broadway version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables strikes such a responsive chord resides in the recurring question “Who am I?” that stands at the heart of the story. Am I defined by how I see myself or how others see me? Have life’s inevitable wounds and failures determined my identity, or can I find redemption? Do I play a meaningful role in something larger than myself, or do I serve as a mere cog in an impersonal machine? If my life possesses purpose, how do I discover my purpose and pursue it?
I want to explore the biblical response to these and related questions, as well as their implications for the life of the Christian and the church. The common division of the biblical narrative into three major movements – creation, fall, and redemption – provides an effective framework for this exploration. It is perhaps not an overstatement to say that after these three movements emerge in the early chapters of Genesis, they set the agenda for the rest of the Bible.
Beginning with the fundamental identity of humanity allows us to understand sin and its impact on the human condition on a much deeper level than our default inclination to reduce it to rule breaking (despite biblical warnings to the contrary). Of course, the truth about both humanity and sin finds its reference point in the nature of God. Only this orientation enables us to embrace God’s ultimate work of redemption in Christ that liberates us from the alienating and enslaving power of sin.
At the outset we can affirm that the general human identity crisis both results from and contributes to the destructive power of sin in the creation. The pervasive presence of sin means that those who claim to be God’s covenant community often reflect the problem more than the alternative (as many who have left this community can attest). The journey back to our true identity thus requires humility, openness, and a seeking heart. With such qualities, however, God promises to work in us the redemptive, restorative transformation that no amount of unaided human wisdom or power can attain.