Welcome to our blog here at Rehobeth Presbyterian Church. As this is the very first entry, an introduction is in order.
Rather than “introduction,” though, let's cast things in the language of our times: What is our identity?
The question of identity has dominated the news in recent months; it's the epitome of a “hot-button issue.” But the issue of identity isn't new or unique to our day. It goes back thousands of years and cuts across cultural lines.
In fact, the question of identity eventually confronts every thinking person, whether at a job interview or in the quiet of the night. Just who exactly are you? Who am I?
How would you answer this fundamental question?
We'll tackle this topic during the next several installments here on the Rehobeth blog. Today, we start by doing something simple: looking around.
Have a look
Discovering who you are – your identity – starts with opening your eyes and taking a look at the world around you. Sounds obvious and simple, but sometimes you and I overlook basic steps when we're addressing complex issues (for example: how do you fix your expensive, high-tech but malfunctioning computer? First, try unplugging it and turning it off!)
So tonight, tackle some of the easiest, most-pleasant homework you'll ever have: go outside to a quiet place where there's little or no artificial lighting, and look up. That's right – just look up. Don't talk; just look.
There's something mesmerizing, even breathtaking, about sitting under the stars and taking in the night sky. A clear, starlit sky rivals Niagara Falls in its awesomeness. These sights and sounds and moments resonate with something deep and profound inside of you and me. They're almost overwhelming in their grandeur.
And they actually are telling you something that will help you discover your identity.
Normally, you and I don't think of unintelligent objects speaking to us (at least, I hope you don't think that chocolate cookie truly was beckoning to you to eat it!). But thousands of years ago, King David – inspired by the Holy Spirit of God – wrote that the sun, moon and stars are always speaking to us down here on earth.
David says, in Psalm 19:1, that the heavenly bodies are declaring just how great and awesome the God who created them is. Their vastness, orderliness and orchestral movements are speaking the glory of their Maker – without ever uttering a word.
Have you ever spent much time in a Southern coastal city, such as Charleston, Mobile or Savannah? Some of the most-pleasant spots in these cities are the quaint courtyards tucked here and there in older neighborhoods. And the best part of any good courtyard is, doubtlessly, the wrought-iron fountain in the middle. After a day of hustle and bustle, it can be calming to duck into a courtyard and listen to a fountain bubbling steadily and pleasantly.
David says that's exactly what the heavenly bodies are doing all the time: bubbling forth continually, always speaking an elegant word of praise to the triune God, who crafted them. And no matter what language you speak, the heavens speak your language.
They're telling you that there's Someone greater than you. That you, and the stars and the moon and everything else, didn't “just happen.” That the universe is too orderly, too wonderful, too understandable, to be random. And deep down inside, you know it's true. Even the “silent” stars, in their own profound way, say so.
If you're going to make sense of your identity, you've got to place yourself in the larger context of this created world that surrounds you. The Swiss theologian John Calvin put it this way: “For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. … It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself” (Institutes of the Christian Religion I.1.i, ii).
He is there, and He is not silent
So who is this Someone, this God, to whom the heavenlies are testifying? Is is possible to know more about Him than you can discern from looking around?
Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer put it this way (in the title of a book): “He is there, and He is not silent.” No doubt Schaeffer was drawing, at least in part, on David's language in Psalm 19 about creation. But Schaeffer's title also captures another truth from this psalm: God has spoken finally to you and me in His Word.
The creation informs you that there is a God, and it shows you something of His majesty, of His order and of His goodness. But it doesn't tell you the whole story about God, and it doesn't tell you the whole story about yourself.
That's why David moves in Psalm 19 from describing God's word to you in creation to extolling His Word to you in Scripture. It's in the “law of God” (Old Testament shorthand for “the Bible”) where God really pulls back the veil on Himself (and on you, and on this world). To quote an old radio host, the Scriptures are where you find “the rest of the story.”
David says God's word is perfect, and that it converts (or restores) the soul. The Scriptures make you wise, because God sheds His own light into the darkness of your heart and mind. In His word, God answers questions – and clears up confusion – in a way that no one, and nothing else, can do.
(You might be thinking, Hold on a minute. How can I be sure the Bible is the word of God? Great question! For now, I encourage you to check out these great resources from Dr. Michael Kruger, an expert on the New Testament canon, of Reformed Theological Seminary.)
So what does this mean for my identity?
In coming weeks, we'll look more closely at what God's written word says about your identity. For now, though, let's conclude by considering what His visible, created word tells you.
One, there is a Creator – and He has fashioned His universe in such a way that you can study and learn about it. (Science actually depends on the orderliness and intelligibility of the universe, which God spoke into existence [Psalm 33:6]). And, in the process, you learn about Him.
Two, there is a “given-ness” to creation, and a reason things are the way they are. Our (exciting) role as humans is to discover and to unpack what God has made. He – not you or I – is the author of life.
Three, if you're going to find your identity – to discover who you really are as a person in this world – you've got to consider yourself in the context of the universe around you. You've got to ask good questions: What does it mean that I'm intelligent, whereas a rock isn't? Why do I wonder about the meaning of life? Why do I marvel at crashing waves and at vast mountain slopes?
Four, if you're going to find your identity, you've got to learn from the One who made you.
Several years ago, a restaurant where I lived staged a fun, if slightly frustrating, contest. The proprietor of the restaurant had come to own an aged, odd-looking, table-mounted gadget with a confusing array of cranks and handles shooting out of it. The person who could identify the gadget correctly (in terms of its use) won the prize. At last check (full disclosure: I don't live there anymore), no one had given the correct answer. There were plenty of guesses, but of course, the only thing that mattered was that someone's answer matched the intent of the maker. Everything else was just a shot in the dark, wide of the truth.
Want to know your identity? Our identity? Start by looking around and listening to what your Maker is saying.