Part 2: Identity: Sons of God
As a child, I was pretty brilliant and often came first in my class. I think it’s mostly because I’m very curious and love learning new things. I have an innate, insatiable thirst for knowledge that drove me to read an entire library of storybooks before I became a teenager; I was therefore able to master the English language early in life. I’ve also always had a flair for writing and my English compositions were often used as teaching aids by my teachers, not just in my class, but in some of the higher classes as well. I was good at Math and Science too (which girls were not expected to excel at back then) and often tutored students in classes above mine in these subjects. I quickly gained standing among my peers as an intelligent, independent, and quite feisty little girl. It is, therefore, no surprise that as I grew up, I built my identity around my academic prowess.
Although I played a bit of netball and basketball in my teen years, I wasn’t exceptionally good at sports. I loved singing but wasn’t a very good dancer. I was a plump, socially awkward geek who didn’t understand what the hullabaloo about make-up and boys was all about. Add to this some childhood trauma, coupled with an emotionally unstable home environment, and I clung to my glorified brainpower for dear life. It seemed to me that the only time I was celebrated, appreciated, or praised, was when I excelled at school. I gradually but firmly – albeit rather subconsciously – adapted my lifestyle to shine a light on and push my academic accomplishments to the forefront while simultaneously suppressing, even hiding, everything else about me in the background.
This lifestyle inadvertently led me to believe that the shiny parts of myself that I kept in the foreground were the most important and definitive aspects of who I was (my identity) and that the lack-lustre emotions, struggles, shortcomings, and averageness of everything else in my life somehow had to be detached from me so that what remained would be fully praiseworthy, admirable, excellent… and, therefore, fully acceptable.
To be honest, this structure, although it held for a while, didn’t serve me well at all. In my early teens, I spiraled into a severe and chronic depression that stayed with me for almost two decades. I desperately wanted to be only the Levine that was brilliant and admired by her peers; but I couldn’t deny that I was also the Levine that couldn’t dance, was overweight, failed that Chemistry exam, struggled with loneliness, and had no idea how to deal with the rage that was boiling over inside me every day. I kept trying to persuade myself that my identity was defined by my best parts, but the more I did that, the more I was faced with the reality of my failures, struggles, and shortcomings. I was stuck in an endless loop of “I wish I could… but I can’t. I wish I were… but I’m not.” Eventually, the structure crumbled and I was left defenseless, purposeless, and utterly hopeless.
Relationships are forged on the basis of acceptance
It’s important for us to understand that humans are social and (inter)dependent beings in need of relationship with other humans and with God; and relationships are forged on the basis of acceptance. Before a relationship of any kind can be formed between two people, each party arduously, though often subconsciously, evaluates a number of given characteristics in the other and makes a judgement on whether to accept the person and proceed in relationship with them or reject them and nip the association in the bud. Acceptance is the gateway to relationship. Arising from the need for relationship, therefore, is the inherent desire for acceptance in every human being.
In making judgements on acceptance, we often evaluate characteristics such as attitudes and thought patterns, behavioral traits, appearance, gifts and talents, belief systems, material possessions, tribe, nationality, names, positions and titles, etcetera; all of which collectively make up a person’s identity. However, our choices are often biased. We assign value based on our own personal characteristics, trying to match our likes with those of the other party, our weaknesses with their strengths, or our needs with their ability to meet them. Ultimately, only those matches that are beneficial – or at the very least, likeable – to us are accepted. It’s clear then that identity informs acceptance.
The Journey of Embracing our Identity
This dynamic is not only true for external relationships with other human beings and with God, but also for our own internal relationship with self. We tend to easily accept the parts of ourselves that we believe are good, pleasing, and praiseworthy, according to what we were taught early in life. However, many of us struggle to accept those characteristics we were taught are unpleasant, ugly, or even repulsive – so much such that some people end up completely rejecting those parts of themselves (that are essentially part of their identity), sometimes resulting in mental illnesses and disorders like anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
Simply put, identity is the sum of all the characteristics of an individual that make him a complete person distinguishable from others. Because of our hybrid nature – that we are spirits operating in a flesh body – it follows, then, that our identity not only includes both spiritual and physical characteristics, but is actually established on the spiritual (unchanging and eternal) identifiers more than the physical (temporary and finite) ones. Our true identity is not based on fluctuating identifiers and biased performance scores or values, but on sturdy, lasting, and divine attributes defined by the Almighty God.
Unfortunately, many of us struggle to find our identity and place in the world. We often look to our ancestry, abilities, accomplishments, and possessions to define our acceptance value. However, because these qualities are highly variable, an identity pegged on them will be equally unstable. For example, if you build your identity on your tribe or ancestry, what happens when you move to a place where your tribe is discriminated against or your family name is despised? You will inevitably suffer loss in your self-esteem or end up hating those tribes or families that discriminate against you.
Letting Go of Control and Finding Acceptance
Hence many of us spend our lifetimes in vain pursuit of control in order to create a sense of stability and acceptance. We seek to control other people’s valuation of our characteristics, as well as the variable traits on which we have misguidedly built our identity. Many of us subconsciously use money, under the guise of pursuing a competitive advantage, in trying to control variables related to our abilities and accomplishments because our value system is largely based on success in business or in the workplace. Worse still, we often use people to serve our own selfish interests and ambitions; this too is a form of control. We want what we want, when we want it and how we want it – regardless of the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual cost on the person providing the need – and will go to great lengths to justify our selfishness to ourselves, often getting upset when we don’t have our way.
Sadly, in our mindless pursuit of acceptance through control, we end up hurting the people closest to us and wandering away from God. Yet all this is preventable if we only understand that we are already accepted. Jesus says in John 6:37 “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” We are loved and cherished by our Father, God. He knows who we really are and reveals it to us in scripture.
Genesis 1:26-27 tells us, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Three truths are evident here: that man was created by God, that he was created in God’s own image, and that he was created to rule over the animals and the earth.
Firstly, denying the truth that we were created by God deceitfully absolves us from responsibility to him. It gives a false assurance of autonomous self-governance and will; that we are free to do whatever we want, whenever we want, without consequence to self. This lie also immediately obliterates our true identity, casting us into the hairy sphere of performance-based acceptance with no standard scoring criteria. It leads us to wrongly conclude: I can do whatever I want as long as I deem it acceptable. These selfish ideologies cause a lot of pain in marriages where a spouse feels it is their right and privilege to be given and served as they please, blindly overlooking – even trampling upon – the needs of their counterparts.
Understanding and Embracing our Identity in God
On the other hand, in the sphere of performance-based acceptance, some people might falsely conclude that they have to meet a certain standard in order to be accepted. This ideology is equally dangerous as it utterly shatters our self-esteem by making us dependent on other people’s valuation of us. It also unfortunately propels us to go to great lengths to enter into or maintain relationships with others, often enduring untold abuses and maltreatment in the process. As the self-centered philosophy drives selfishness in the dominant personality, so does the self-deprecating persuasion drive fear in more subservient personalities. Yet both can easily be corrected by accepting the truth: that we answer to the Almighty God who created us.
Secondly, to have dominion is to rule, subjugate, bring under control, prevail against, and exercise power or authority over someone or something. God’s divine design was for mankind to rule over the animals and the earth (the plants, the ground, the waters, etcetera); not to rule over other human beings… not even to rule over himself. In fact, it was only after the fall of man in Genesis 3 that the concept of a man ruling over a woman was introduced. We will delve deeper into this discussion next week; suffice it to say that we are rulers. We have power and authority to prevail against and bring under our control anything that tries to oppose us. However, we are accountable to the Almighty God from whom our dominion originates.
Thirdly, we are the image of our Creator. In Hebrew, the original language in which the Old Testament was written, the same word interpreted here as ‘likeness’ is also used in Genesis 5:1-3 to describe the resemblance between the first man created and his son, Seth.
“This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; and blessed them and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth…” Genesis 5:1-3, KJV
We are Made In His Image and Likeness
Mankind (Adam, as used in this passage) resembles God just like a child resembles its father, and both men and women carry this likeness and resemblance. The poetry in this passage paints a picture of continuity: God brings forth Adam (male and female) and then Adam brings forth Seth in similar fashion – passing on his likeness to his son – and this continues in subsequent generations to the present age. Since Adam was created in the likeness of God, it is this very same divine likeness that he passed on to his son, who passed it on to his sons and every subsequent generation to date.
More importantly, it’s evident that the birth of a son from its father (and mother) is no different from Adam’s creation: he was born of his Father, God, just like his son, Seth, was born of him. The only difference is that Adam was not born of God in a physical sense (because God is spirit), but in the pouring forth of both substance and life. Physical birth involves the pouring forth of physical substance (the flesh body) and life (the breath); similarly, Adam’s spiritual birth involved the pouring forth of God’s spirit substance and breath into the physical mold of clay that He had made from the dust of the ground.
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7, KJV
“If it were [God’s] intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to the dust.” Job 34:14-15
Born of The Spirit Sons of God
Man is a living soul; a combination (hybrid) of a physical body formed from the dust of the ground, animated by (i.e. given or drawing life from) a spirit (breath and vitality/life) that comes from God. Therefore, at our very core, we are spirit in nature because it is the spirit that gives life (John 6:63) to the flesh. The flesh, however, is useful for accomplishing the purposes of the spirit. Consequently, our identity is established on our spiritual characteristics (who God says we are and what He has created us to do) but also includes our physical characteristics (like voice pitch for the singer, a muscular physique for the athlete, and steady hands for the surgeon) that are uniquely assigned to us by God for the fulfilment of our individual divine destinies.
The Almighty God is our Father, not just because He created us, but because He “birthed” us. The Hebrew word translated in Genesis 2:7 as ‘breathed’ is the word naphach. It means to puff or blow hard. The word translated as ‘breath’ is the Hebrew neshamah, which means: a puff, a forceful expiration or release of air/wind. The word neshamah comes from the root word nasham, meaning to pant: it is used to describe a woman in labor or childbirth. Genesis 2:7, therefore, paints a picture of someone travailing in labor, panting and puffing, releasing a breath that was living (and had power to impart life, i.e. the Spirit according to John 6:63) into this clay mold that sprung to life and became a living soul.
This was a mind-blowing revelation for me. You see, I always thought that we call God Father because He created us. But if that were the case, how different would we be from cows and dogs and other wild animals? Then I thought perhaps it was because we are created in His image and likeness. But what does that really mean? So I look like God, but what does God look like? And beyond me feeling good about my appearance, what does that really do for me?
However, it’s clear now that it’s much more than just physical appearance and the power to create; the God of the entire universe literally gave birth to us! He is our Father just as much as – in fact, even more so than – our biological fathers because our earthly fathers only passed along a likeness they received from their fathers tracing all the way back to the ultimate Father of all mankind; Jehovah Elohim. And the very ability to pass along this likeness was given to our forefathers by the Almighty God. Besides, our earthly fathers, though spirit and flesh in nature, cannot pour their spiritual substance into us, they can only pass along their physical substance through DNA. But physical substance without spirit (breath and life) is nothing but dust. This means that our spiritual substance and very life come directly from God. He is our Father. We are sons of God.
God Spells our DNA
As a molecular biologist, I am compelled to share a revelation I received about our DNA. The DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a structure found in the nucleus (core) of most types of cells in the bodies of living things, including man. Roughly put, the DNA is a string made up of four different bases – adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C) – in infinitely varying combinations. This string is depicted as a series of letters depending on the arrangement of the 4 bases; for example, ACTTGCCAGTAAAC… Through elaborate biochemical processes, this string produces proteins that are responsible for our various physical characteristics, e.g. melanin – responsible for coloration of the skin.
Our physical characteristics therefore vary based on the arrangement of these bases in our DNA. This means that when God creates each one of us, He ensures that the letters in our DNA string follow the exact sequence necessary to determine our height, skin color, hair texture, eye color and shape, dental formula, fingerprints, IQ, bone density, etc. The human DNA (string) is about 3 billion base pairs and the Creator not only ensures that the sequence is arranged just right to produce a human with the specific characteristics He has envisioned, but also ensures that no two human beings have the exact same sequence. God literally spells out our DNA like our parents spell out our names when we are born. The DNA is like a really long and unique name He gives each one of us. Nothing about us is a fluke or an accident; our Father painstakingly designs and defines our identity letter by letter because we are His beloved children.
This is the second item on my list: I wish that all men knew their true identity. I want the men to know that they are not defined by what they do (or don’t do), what they have (or don’t have), or even what they look like, but by eternal parameters set in place by the Creator of the universe. I want them to know that they are rulers with great power and authority, for which they are answerable to the Almighty God. I pray they would grasp the truth that they are sons of God – princes and kings of infinite value, loved with an everlasting and unconditional love (Jeremiah 31:3), fully accepted by the Father, and welcome to a most fulfilling, rewarding, and necessary relationship with Him through Christ Jesus, our Lord, by the guidance of precious Holy Spirit, our Comforter.
I pray that our dear men would be mindful that the women are no different in this regard. That we share in the image and likeness of God and the inheritance of the saints in Christ Jesus. May God give the men the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to understand the great honor and privilege given to them in marriage: that God assigns to them His precious female sons (Adams) to aid them in achieving their divine destinies. Father, may you open the eyes of their understanding, drawing them away from selfish ambitions and desires, to the realization that commensurate to the great privilege accorded to them, is the responsibility to love, protect, and steward your precious female sons (along with every gift and talent given to them from above) into their divine purpose on the earth.
Help us, O LORD God; our precious and loving Father.