Identity -- What Determines It?
WHEN I first learned that my parents were closing the family business and might sell their home of twenty-five years, I felt more lost than sad. It was as if their identities (and to a lesser degree my identity) were in jeopardy. Yet if our identity can change when we lose something we own, it would mean that we are dependent upon and pretty much determined by our possessions. A recent article in a local newspaper told of how various promotions subtly and aggressively suggest that a person's identity and value are determined by what one owns. If one has the best clothes, car, home, that person will be ``better'' than those who don't own these things. It went on to say that the down side of this picture is the tendency to feel that if someone doesn't have these things, or the right kind of things, he doesn't measure up.
Wealth does not equal worth. If we became more meritorious by accumulating costly possessions, then those who own more would bring a greater blessing to society. Yet this isn't necessarily true.
The ultimate example is Christ Jesus, who had few possessions yet was undeniably great -- the Way-shower for humanity. Where did Jesus' greatness lie? It lay in his spiritual talents -- his unselfish love, his wisdom, his spiritual intuition, his fidelity to God, his ability to heal sickness, destroy sin, and raise the dead through Christ, Truth. The blessings he brought are still being felt.
Jesus explained the basis of his individuality simply. He said, ``I and my Father are one.''1 He understood the unity between God and man, divine Principle and idea. Jesus did not just speak of God as his Father; he also spoke of God as our Father. We too are one with our divine Principle, Love. Our real being is God's image and likeness, the expression of divine Mind. Man expresses the wisdom of the one Mind, the vitality and joy of divine Life, the sheer goodness of divine Love.
In fact, man's enduring identity is profoundly and utterly spiritual. The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes: ``Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual.''2
A materialistic sense of life judges people on the basis of physicality, worldly possessions, and so forth, for material sense does not perceive Spirit. To material sense, spiritual identity doesn't seem to have much to offer -- nothing seemingly so concrete in appearance as houses, cars, or fine clothes. Yet those things are all perishable precisely because they are material.
What is lasting? Spiritual qualities such as love, joy, wisdom, inspiration, health, integrity, strength. These are immortal because their source is Spirit. They are vibrant, real. When we see or feel these qualities being expressed by ourselves or another, we know how vivid they are and how valuable.
What a joy it was for me to see that all that is good and valuable in my parents cannot be lost or destroyed. I realized that as I correctly identified them and myself in terms of the spiritual qualities we express, I would understand better man's immutable worth. I would see in our lives gain rather than loss.
Man's expression of spiritual qualities constitutes his genuine worth -- the very substance of his being. This true identity can never depreciate or be lost. It cannot ebb and flow with the changing human scene, because it is complete and eternal.
1John 10:30. 2Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 468.