Bishop Richard writes…
So many issues in life focus around our sense of identity, meaning and purpose. And there is plenty going on at the moment which brings all that into very sharp relief.
In the world of sport, whether you love or loathe the saturation coverage of the World Cup, it is difficult to avoid the profound and passionate identification of supporters with their particular national team. Whilst the tournament is running there seems to be relatively little comment on the underlying and complex political framework within which the World Cup is taking place. It may be that people simply want a bit of light relief from the many deep and anxiety-producing political issues we now face.
Many of those political issues also focus around our sense of identity, meaning and purpose, whether expressed through the interminable debates over Brexit, convoluted immigration policies, or the rise of nationalist, populist governments in many parts of the world - not least in America with the “America first” approach. It is sometimes said we divide into being “somewhere people” whose identity is clearly linked to a particular place or “anywhere people” who are at ease in many different contexts. I suspect most of us are a bit of both in varying degrees.
Many ethical issues also contain big questions about human identity, meaning and purpose - ranging from the debates over the impact of artificial intelligence and trans-humanism to the long-running and deeply divisive question of attitudes to human sexuality concerning which the current teaching document being developed in the Church of England has the title “Living in faith and love.”
Underlying all of these is our understanding of what it means to be human and our place in the world and the cosmos. Dr Yuval Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has written two bestselling books entitled Sapiens and Homo Deus. His basic approach is that any meaning we might attribute to our human existence is simply a product of the human imagination. As the 21st century progresses, developments in the biological sciences and computer science will place more and more emphasis on the development of homo sapiens into what he calls homo deus via an upgrading through biological, cyborg and non-organic engineering. However fanciful that might sound, it does present a challenge to those of the Christian faith who have a very different understanding of human identity, meaning and purpose.
Bishop Michael Curry’s recent sermon for the Royal wedding, which focused on the transformative power of love, spoke in many ways of that Christian understanding. In the 17th century, the French philosopher Descartes famously said, “I think therefore I am”. The Christian way of expressing the heart of human identity, meaning and purpose would be to say “I love therefore I am”, or even better, “God loves me, therefore I am”. In short, we are created by Love, and for love, and it is this which sits at the heart of the Christian view of our identity, meaning and purpose.
Over the summer months, in the midst of so many anxiety-inducing headlines, it is well worth reflecting on and praying about how we both articulate and live out that deep and rich Christian understanding of our identity, meaning, and purpose at every level of our lives. As Jesus said of his disciples, “I have come that they may have life, and may have it in all its fullness”. Or, in the Bible’s most famous verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”