Sunday, May 21, 2006

GRII Retreat 2006 Session 1 - Who Am I?

This is my personal summary of Rev.Stephen Tong's sharing on Session 1 of "Seeking and working out your calling in God's big picture" in GRII Singapore Retreat on 11-13 May 2006

We ask this question “Who am I?” because we have a consciousness about our existence. Aristotle said that man is the only being with rationality, to do induction or deduction. Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. What does this image consist of?

Ephesians 4:24
“and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (NIV)

There are 3 aspects mentioned in the verse:

1. Truth
2. Righteousness
3. Holiness

From the aspect of truth, humans are beings that have the capacity to understand and rationalize. From the aspect of righteousness, humans not only can know truth and falsehood, but can also make valuation with a standard of justice. In the aspect of holiness, humans are moral beings that are to remain holy. Morality is the foundation of culture.

The study of anthropology in fact borrows ideas from reformed theology regarding all these important aspects of the essence of humanity. But reformed theology has strong anchor because it not only discusses it, but also acknowledges the origin, that is, God made men in His image. All these aspects which reflect God in human beings are still there but have been largely marred by sin. Without the understanding of the creation and the Fall as revealed by the Scriptures, men can never understand the huge gap they see within themselves.

Man is the only being that is aware of his own existence. I know I am me and I know what is not me. Existence and the sense of existence are two different things. Human beings often live their lives being numbed of their sense of existence. When hurt and mistreated, the sense of existence becomes very strong and suddenly they realize they exist again. “Why am I treated this way?” “I am also a human being like others, but why am I mistreated?” This is the cry that springs from our realization of our existence. We should not look down on sufferings that often would bring us to a deep realization of our being.

But why is it important to have that strong sense of our existence? When was the first time we seriously ask ourselves, “Who am I?” Animals live day by day by their instinct for food and sex, unaware that they are going through a passage of history and their ‘kronos’ (time) will soon be gone. But humans are different from animals. We have a sense of crisis and it is important that we know our existence.

When a person begins to ask this question “Who am I” seriously, he has reached a very important moment of his life. He is moving towards the truth.

This sense of his existence leads to a second level of realization, that is, a sense of responsibility towards his existence. When life is too smooth, we live like a machine without demanding ourselves of higher pursuits. We do not realize that there is meaning in life. So we do not think that we are supposed to seek for meaning.

Sharp thinkers frequently emerge from places that have a lot of difficulties. They begin to have a strong sense of their existence, a sense of responsibility towards their existence and think of how they can contribute to the society and history. But in many places where life is too smooth, like Singapore, there is no such sense. Despite all the advancement in economy and technology, it is a very poor place spiritually.

The greatest question a person can ask concerning himself is, “Who am I?” This question itself contains within in another 3 basic questions.

1. Who asks? I ask.
2. Ask whom? I ask myself.
3. Ask about what? I ask about myself.

We can go on and on with further questions that come from those questions. Why do I ask myself? Do I have the right to ask? If I ask myself about myself, can I answer myself?

We should not just live like a machine. If we know the right questions to ask, we have already understood 50%. Asking the right questions is the beginning of the solution.

Further, am I satisfied with myself?

Actually, we all know that deep inside we are not satisfied with ourselves. However, when others criticize us we are still very unhappy. This tells us that we still want a false satisfaction and often times we deceive ourselves.

Is there a greater target in life I am supposed to reach? Who sets the target?

We are not created by ourselves, through ourselves, for ourselves. This basic understanding is still very blurred in worldly philosophies hence the philosophical foundation stands on very faulty and shaky ground. In all their analysis, they are still looking at themselves as the center, as both the subject and object matter, hence frequently make the mistake thinking humans can solve their own problems. When men think they can be their own savior or the savior of the world, they are sicker than the rest of the world.

If I myself do not know who I am and therefore I ask the question “Who am I?” how then can I give myself the answer of who I am?

But if I do not ask myself, if I cannot answer the question pertaining myself, whom should I ask? It is true that if we do not have faith, we can only ask ourselves.

Kierkegaard says a very deep statement regarding the essence of existence. He says that that to exist is to be one and alone before God. Everyone lives and dies before God as a distinct individual hence everyone must have the courage to ask God about his own life and sufferings. If we do not have a right relationship with the Creator, we can never answer the important questions concerning ourselves.

Asking back to ourselves the questions regarding ourselves is like an ‘evil circle’. It is anthropocentric approach where the subject and object are mixed. It is possible for a person to lift up things heavier than himself, but he still cannot lift up himself. The whole world is trapped in their search of who they are because they forget that they are created by God. If we ask God, the subject and object are now separate.

When I think, I am a subject. So I can think and analyze objects. I can study the nature and the stars. I can think far, deep and wide. But if I turn within and begin to think how my thinking is thinking, how can I think properly about how I think when I am thinking? It is again the mixture of subject and object where we cannot get the answer.

We need to get back to God. “God, show me Thy will.” “Who am I?” “What is my position in the universe?” “Is there anything I should do?” This ushers us into a serious realm where we begin to take our existence seriously.


At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Wismin said...

Regarding the statement: ... in many place where life is too smooth ... very poor spiritually.

Does God these days still bring disasters such that people would again think of the meaning of life ?

From world perspective, disasters are evil, and loving God won't do that.
But if such disasters would cause people to seek God, why not ?

At 7:11 PM, Blogger Adi said...

Thanks for putting up the notes. I think you have jotted down nearly everything.

Just a few additions from me:
I think the exact phrase from Kierkegaard is "to exist is to be with oneself alone before God."

It was illuminating to be reminded that 'our purpose of existence can only be understood from the revelation of God.' The Westminster Cathecism says, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." On why this must be so, I think the sermon has shed some light.


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