18: Wrestling with Identity According to Christian Theology

Part 18 of my spiritual journey series.

As a big fan of the musician Jewel, I was excited to purchase and read her memoir, Never Broken in December of 2015. I loved reading her life story, and her theme of rebirth was really pinging something deep in me.

In her book, she references the work of Dr. Brene Brown, who has been researching shame and vulnerability. Brown makes a distinction between guilt and shame that I’d never heard before. Guilt is a healthy response, a recognition that something you have done is wrong. It compells you to make amends for your actions. On the other hand, shame is a belief that who you are is bad, and frequently leads to a continuation of bad behavior.

For instance, if I do something that hurts another person, guilt tells me that what I did was bad, but shame tells me that *I* am bad.

This made so much sense to me, but I suddenly found myself very confused. I found myself coming back to a topic that always perplexed me as a Christian.

I had been taught that, according to the Bible, we are all basically born corrupted. We are inherently evil in need of a Savior to redeem us from the curse of the fall of Adam and Eve.

So, basically I’m bad. Until Jesus redeems me. Now I’m good. Except that I’m not good, because the good in me is not my own good, it’s only Jesus.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” -Galatians 2:20

So now I identify with Christ. But… I am not Christ. I am me. Who am I? What am I? Am I good or bad? Where am *I* in the middle of all this? If all that is good in me comes from Jesus, then does all the bad come from me? Who I am is fundamentally bad/flawed?

I was really confused. It was something I struggled to understand for a long, long time. It was an internal war I could never resolve, this feeling of being so wholly unworthy of God’s grace. Despite accepting God’s grace, I didn’t understand how that fundamentally changed who I was. I could believe all day long that I had been born again, but that darn sin nature refuses to just DIE. It ALWAYS comes back. We ALWAYS sin, despite our best efforts not to (Paul himself wrote about this!). So, who do I blame that sin nature on? Me, right? It’s not Jesus! And its not my redeemed self, which supposedly exists on some spiritual plane somewhere. Who takes responsibility for the sin nature? WHO is doing the sinning? ME. I AM the one sinning. If this was a tendency I was born with, a “sinful nature”, then does it not mean that I AM EVIL?

It was a constant and exhausting work of trying to deny my flesh and take on the identity of Christ. Denying myself. Deny myself. Don’t be yourself. Be like Christ. Be Christ. Who you are sucks, who you are is just a pathetic sinful failure, put on Christ instead. But it’s a joke. It’s just putting on a Christ mask. It’s dressing a pig in pearls.

It was complicated mental gymnastics I wasn’t sure I could keep up with anymore.

And then I came across a Christian I knew who wrote that No, we aren’t inherently evil and that it was a grand flaw in our theology. I asked him to explain it for me, but for some reason he never got back to me.

But I started wondering… started hypothesizing and theorizing… what if I’m not inherently evil? What would that mean then?

If I’m not inherently evil, then I don’t need redemption?

If I don’t need redemption from a sinful nature… what do I need Jesus for?

I felt myself slipping into a deep hole, and I worried that if I questioned too much and too hard, I might come to some uncomfortable conclusions that would have a profound impact on my life… I was terrified of losing my salvation and being separated from God.

I tried not to think about it. I figured I should stop thinking about it and just wait for my Christian friend to write back with his explanation. But he never wrote back, and so I just never went back deep on the topic.

I was getting ready to give birth, at which point I just start nesting and ignoring deep philosophical matters and turn towards the physical tangible aspects of life.

But after the birth, my rashes returned, and I was thrust back into my search for healing. I hoped to find a homeopathic remedy that could help my rashes, and my study of homeopathy led right into studying trauma, psychology, and dreamwork. I was finally finding a loose framework in which to start connecting the scattered dots of my life and find healing.

It was time for another appointment with Snake…

Up next: Snake Medicine

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