Friday, October 20, 2017

The only finished human

I don't know if this is a cross-cultural constant - my hunch would be probably not - but here in the West it seems to be universally assumed that life takes the form of a story of some kind.  I think it's almost impossible for us to avoid narrative as a way of understanding the (often apparently random) events which fill the span our existence.  We tell the story of our lives to ourselves and to others because that is how we integrate our experiences and experience our selves in the world.

That latter would imply that our tendency toward life-narrative is deeply connected to issues of identity.  This surely is the case.  In telling our life story, we also present ourselves.  The story of the things that have happened to me, and how I have reacted to things or brought things about - that is at one level surely about synthesising myself as a character in a story.  One interesting thing about that is the interplay of given and created in my self-understanding.  To a certain extent I can tell the story my way, and thus create my own character; but at some level there are events and reactions over which I have no apparent control, and my character is given to me.  (And of course this is not just retrospective: I can make decisions which affect the future course of the story, and in that way I have input into who I will be; and yet, not all my decisions will work out as planned, and to a certain extent I will always find myself in a future story not of my making).  I am both who I make myself, and a constant surprise to myself.  I make myself and discover myself.

The thing is, the story is not yet finished.  It's not even as if we've written the first part in stone, and we're writing on into the future.  As anyone who has tried to write a story (or even read one) knows, sometimes things happen in the later narrative which require the complete re-evaluation of earlier events.  We might need to re-write the early story in light of what is coming.  And that means that we can only have a provisional knowledge of who we are: we can only say that this is who I seem to be to me at the moment.  (And I'm not even touching here on the fact that other people looking in might tell our stories, and portray our characters, very differently - and is it really all that clear that we should privilege our own narrative voice, even if practically it is inevitable that we will do so?)

So here's a thought: Jesus Christ is the only finished human.  The story of his life is complete, from birth to death.  That could be said of countless people, of course.  But the difference is that in raising Jesus - from the dead, and then up to his own right hand - God has pronounced the authoritative verdict on Jesus' life.  God has endorsed a particular telling of Jesus' story - and God's endorsement implies truth.  Jesus now lives forever as the person he was.  His complete story means a complete character: we know who he is.  He will always be that person.

This has two implications for the way I think about my personal future.  At the one level, I can say: I don't know who I will be for eternity, because in the here and now my story and character are not fixed.  One day, I will know who I am, but not yet.  But at another level, if I am thinking in faith - which is just to say, if I am not ignoring Jesus Christ - I know that the me I will discover in that eternal future will be the me eternally determined already by him.

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

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