The Search For Identity

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with this system of personality assessments called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI for short). This personality test has become somewhat of an updated version of the ever-popular horoscope. Through self-assessment, and a list of either/or-fit-within-a-spectrum questions, one achieves a better understanding of himself or herself- at least, that’s the goal. My results are consistently ENFJ (having taken the test around eight times). Okay, that’s not the whole story. I scored ENFP twice…but who is counting?

When I first read the descriptions and implications of my personality type, I felt a sense of relief and a warmth that someone, somewhere understood me. A chord was struck deep inside of me that began playing a note of happiness. For the first time in awhile, I felt understood. The more I looked into Myers-Briggs, the more I realized how much of it was at best pseudo-science. But, I so desperately wanted to understand myself further, that I began doing research on other ENFJ’s, and what they are like around other personality types. I began analyzing my childhood, my behavior at church and at school, and reviewed segments of my life to see if these four letters could describe my life thus far.

Knowing these results gave me some sort of anchor, a sense of better knowing my identity. By knowing what these letters mean and how these letters affect my relationships with other people, I began to understand the world differently, and had a more specific understanding of my place within it. For a second, Myers-Briggs gave me an anchor, a mirror in which to see myself in a familiar, yet deeper light. It turns out, the test is becoming more and more popular (through sites such as 16personalities.com) and it makes sense: we want someone out there to tell us everything about ourselves that we’ve ever wanted to know. We want to know that this world isn’t a chaotic mess of random occurrences; a place without purpose, empathy, or mutual understanding. This is exemplified in the communities we build around us.

On YouTube, you can find hundreds of videos of people giving their MBTI testimonies, explaining how they see themselves and other people. There are people who have podcasts talking about personality types, and people giving their opinions on what certain personality types should do. There’s an MBTI community on the internet, and that’s not the only kind of community you’ll find. Transgender people are giving their testimonies, and seeking empathy, support, direction, and encouragement from other like-minded individuals. You’ll find gamers, Doctor Who fanatics, Bronies (dudes who love My Little Pony), aestheticians, writers, philosophers, and any other kind of study or human being you’ll want to find on there. For some reason, we human beings feel the need to categorize ourselves. This categorizing is used as affirmation of who we feel we are, and an anchor to establish our place in the world. We are all searching for some sense of identity. But, unlike Myers-Briggs, our identities don’t come from self-perception, they come from deep reflection on the word of God. Yet, it seems our present generation prizes empathy and mutual understanding above all other virtues, at the cost of seeing the singular narrative we all take part in: the story of the universe, of God’s glorious design for history. We are writing petty novels while God is writing with His hand an epic story of universal proportions. We are missing our place in His story. But, it’s as if the greatest sin today is to tell someone that what they feel is not the whole story.

Underneath all these ideas of social acceptance and harmony is the assumption that somehow these specific identities are our own, but we have no way of ascertaining where they come from. Who exactly gave you this distinct identity, or made you part of a people group that shares the same one? Somewhere beneath all these identities is a common one we all share, an identity not based on our feelings or internal inclinations.
We need an anchor. I think it’s correct to say that, in our present day, we are so striving to represent ourselves as masters over own lives, that we miss the assumption that the keys to our destinies came out of nowhere. Who exactly made you distinct, and why? What exactly is the difference between genuine identity, and just plain rebellion from who you’re supposed to be? It’s as if we assume that our identities just appeared, inside of us. That somehow, we were just born with all these ideas and feelings without any way of explaining why they’re there. Empirical science doesn’t do you much good, because it can only speak based on what it observes. It can’t travel back in time for you and unravel all the philosophical and spiritual questions dwelling inside. It can’t solve the ultimate dilemma of identity. We need our identities revealed to us. Perhaps, we are the revelation of the great Revealer. Maybe the answer is that no matter how deeply we look within ourselves, we’ll never be able to put these abstract pieces together without a concrete picture to assemble them to. Perhaps we are not the object, but the image of the object. The answer lies in the mouth of God.

It’s so critical that we grasp this in our day and age: that our identity is not individualistic, it’s collectivistic; it all comes from one source (the triune God of Scripture). We share the same identity, but express it in different ways. Your identity is either in Christ or condemned: that’s it! As much as want to honor, fight for, and proclaim out differences- differences that seem to carve out a place for us in this world- our differences are not what make us who we are; rather, it’s that we all bear the mark of the same Creator (Gen. 1:27) who is preparing a place for us (John 14). Where our identity will truly come to light, and finally freed from this dark and sinful world (1 John 3:1-3).

It’s also important to note that to be truly “human” is not to sin, but to live out who you were made to be. The world believes you create your identity, God says, your identity is hiding in Him, and only in finding Him will you find your identity (Jer. 29:11-13). Being made in the Image of God means in some small way, you are reflecting what God does in the world by creating, structuring, and working the contents of this earth, and, like the Son, giving God glory (Jn. 17:1-3). Instead of trying so desperately to distinguish ourselves in the world, why don’t we anchor ourselves in the identity God has already given us? More importantly, as Christians, recognizing that Christ has identified us with Himself (Col. 3:1-3), is bringing all of us redeemed human beings together to glorify God (Jn. 17), and with one voice praising God with our distinct gifts, talents, and voices (Rom. 15:1-7).

John Calvin famously said that all knowledge flows from two principle heads: the knowledge of God, and of ourselves. In order to understand who we are, we need to not look to each other or our own self-assessments, but assess who we are in light of who God is. I could say more, but I think we all get the picture. Myers-Briggs has nothing on the word of God when it comes to our lives (James 1:22-27)
Until next time,
Austin

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