In recent times, I’ve experienced the fascination of exploring who we are (and perhaps might become) in our family tree, as my daughter has researched our ancestors across six generations. There have been many surprises. We have discovered political activists, paupers, convicts, farmers and even a missionary to Van Diemen’s Land. But the most significant insight has been to discover that across four centuries God has been at work in our family, intervening in lives, turning people in different directions, rescuing some from disaster, and sending others to places unknown. My identity partly reflects the lives of ancestors—their actions, goals, desires, and values—but ultimately I am the work of the one who has searched me and knows me, who ‘created my inmost being…[and] knit me together in my mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139). My God has ordained my purpose and continues to work in my life to mould and to shape me through his Spirit as I live in the world.
In the well-known Australian children’s book The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek1 a creature climbs out of a muddy creek, sits on the bank and immediately asks of himself and anyone who will listen, ‘What am I’? A passing platypus helpfully tells him that he is indeed a ‘Bunyip’! But this isn’t enough. He needs to know not just what he is, but what he looks like, and ultimately, who he is. Some witnesses run away in fright when he enquires of them about his identity, but eventually he bumps into a scientist who informs him that he looks ‘like nothing at all’ because ‘Bunyips simply don’t exist’. The bunyip ultimately finds peace when he comes face-to-face with a female bunyip and understands something of what and who he is by seeing another of his kind.
Like the bunyip, humans thirst after an understanding of who they are, their purpose, and why they are here. And like the bunyip, we often seek such an understanding through the eyes of others and our life circumstances. We even try to reshape ourselves to match the expectations of those who think they know best about our identity. Sadly, while humans are made in the image of God with a purpose that he ordained, we often spend much of our short lives searching for who we are, and why we are here in surprising and pointless places.
Michael Jensen kicks off this edition of Case Magazine with his reflections on what is perhaps the most fundamental distinction of all in regard to identity: what makes me a someone rather than a something? While this is a distinction we all feel we can make instinctively, it is not easy to spell out how it is that we identify ‘someones’. Ultimately, it is the knowledge of who we are in relation to God that gives us a way forward.
The other articles in this issue all deal, in one way or another, with the consequences of the human failure to understand our significance and identity in relation to our creator, saviour and Lord. Like the Bunyip, we often seek identity in the wrong places as we define ourselves by lesser things such as sexuality, personality traits, sporting success, and the groups we belong to. The results are damaging both to individuals and those around them.
Self-identity has always been caught up with sexuality to some degree, and now the connection seems stronger than ever. The obsession with being sexy/skinny/buff—whatever is the flavour of the month in sexual desirability—means sexuality can easily become the chief characteristic determining who we are to others and even ourselves. Kamal and Patricia Weerakoon seek to contrast popular views of sexuality with the Bible’s view, and see how each stacks up against current sexological research.
Sports doping and asylum seekers have been hot topics in the Australian psyche recently, and both have connections to personal identity. Edwina Hine and Dani Scarratt explain the what, how and why of sports doping, and outline a Christian response that sees the problem as going deeper than cheating to the very heart of who we are.
Mark Glanville puts recent Australian asylum-seeker policy under the microscope of Deuteronomy, and finds it seriously at odds with the ethics of the Old Testament Law. This is challenging and important reading for those of us who serve a God who cares for the oppressed and the outsider.
In our ‘Books and Ideas’ section, Craig Josling delves into issues of personality with his discussion of two recent books on introversion, one from a Christian perspective and one secular. Finally, I review the long-awaited book from Megan Best, Fearfully and wonderfully made, which comprehensively explains the many medical and ethical issues surrounding the beginning of life.
There is something to interest and challenge everyone in this issue. I hope you enjoy it. ©
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1 Jenny Wagner, author and Ron Brooks, illustrator, The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek (Longman, 1973).
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