Introduction: Our Crisis
The world seems to be in a constant identity crisis. It feels like it is incredibly common these days for people to do whatever it takes to stick out from the crowd. Everyone wants to be recognized for something, and some don’t even care what. Corporate jobs are becoming increasingly less popular while millennials and Gen Zs seek to work at starter companies, open their own businesses, or not work at all until they can find something unique to them. We wonder why we would want to be 1 out of 500 when we could be the only person in our department, receiving all of the recognition. There are more “creators” than ever (content writers, social media influencers, jewelry makers, upcyclers, musicians, etc.), all thinking they have something different to offer than the next. We ask, Who am I? What can I do to set myself apart? To show you my cards, I work at a small company, in a department that creates content, and while I have no true talents that could give me a nice side hustle, a deep down desire of mine is to be known and loved by many. I want people to know who I am. I want them to think I’m funny, that my personality is like sunshine, and that I was still the best dancer at that one wedding even while 32 weeks pregnant.
While researching how people choose to define themselves, I found an article on LinkedIn and I love how the writer put it: “When it comes to defining ourselves (WHO WE ARE) we have got to define ourselves in constant. When we define ourselves less than a constant, in that case we are building our life upon a very unstable ground.”1 We let things like beauty, family, work roles, relationships, sexuality, and economic status define who we are. These aspects of our life describe how we are and what we do, but they are not who we are. These “identities” are shifting—beauty deteriorates, our children grow up and move out, we get laid off, and the list goes on. If we are rooting our identities in things that can change, we will find ourselves confused and depressed when they do—and they will. If our identity is always placed in things that will change, then our sense of self will always be confused.
While this trend does seem to be increasing more and more, being our “own” has been on the minds of man since the beginning of time.
Part One: Our Name
Read Genesis 11:1-9
Ever since Eve listened to the serpent’s promptings to take from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, human kind has been trying to forge their own path, be their own god, and make their own salvation. In Genesis 11, we read the story of the tower of Babel. The entire earth was living together in one place called Shinar, purposely ignoring God’s command to “increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7). They thought that if they were to be dispersed, they would become easier prey to the God who had just flooded the earth not that long ago. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its tops in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, wrote in his work, Antiquities of the Jews, that a man named Nimrod was the one who excited the people to build the tower. He convinced them that if the tower was high enough, God would be unable to destroy them if he decided to drown the world again and that he, Nimrod himself, would get revenge on God for destroying their forefathers.2
We don’t see mention of Nimrod in Genesis 11, but if you backtrack into chapter 10, we find our leader. Genesis 10:8-10 mentions that Nimrod was the son of Cush (from the line of Noah’s son Ham) and the first mighty man on earth. We learn here that Babel was actually the beginning of his kingdom. Nimrod wanted to make a name for himself, and boy did he! You’ve probably called someone a “nimrod” before as another way to call them, for lack of a better word, an idiot. This slang term is not just some letters jumbled together that make a silly sound. The name “nimrod” as an insult comes from that very king of Shinar that ordered the construction of the tower of Babel as a rebellion against God.
Whatever or whoever we are trying to be, we must be careful that we are not making a similar mistake.
Part Two: Our Purpose
In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles were arrested and put on trial for teaching in the name of Jesus. The council was so enraged that they wanted to kill them. However, one Pharisee in the council took a different stance than the rest. Take a look at the account below:
“But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, ‘Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!’’”Acts 5:34-39
While we should look at this story with careful eyes because Gamaliel’s acknowledgement of the Lord is strictly out of fear and not necessarily reverence to God’s holiness, he does have a point: humans will often destroy themselves, but the plans of God can never be stopped.
Going back to the tower of Babel, Genesis 11:5 says, “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (emphasis mine). I love this not-so-subtle jab at the people’s attempt to build a tower that they thought would be able to get them up to heaven. God literally had to “come down” to see it, because to him, this tower was no bigger than a common home. Following this, the Lord did what he asked the people to do in the first place—he took them and scattered them throughout the earth, and confused their languages while he was at it. This story is a perfect example that what the Lord says will be done, whether we obey him or not.
By no means am I saying that God is going to bring you crumbling down—although he can. We’ve seen evidence in our lives and in Scripture that sometimes even the most wicked of people will prosper. This is the world we live in, with good and evil growing up together like weeds among wheat until Jesus returns to separate the two at his harvest (Matthew 13:30).
Our endeavors might not actually fail by the world’s standards (some of us might succeed greatly!), but they will fail in bringing us the fulfillment that we thought they would. We might pour most of our time and resources into a thing that we think will give us purpose and a name, but be let down when we’ve reached the peak of what it will bring us. We were made for a purpose, but we might be pursuing the wrong one. Everything that is made is created with an intended purpose, and when it is fulfilling its intended purpose, it will find its worth. A rubber duck shoved into a shoe does not make sense. A gas grill without a gas tank is useless. A remote without batteries will not work. We are the same. We do have a purpose, and when we aren’t living it, life will often not make sense. We will feel useless. We will feel like something isn’t working.
Like the man Theudas referenced in Acts 5, we are all claiming to be somebody or something. If making ourselves great is the focus of our intentions, we are actually going against God’s design. To go against his design is to oppose him and consider his holiness as insignificant. Over and over again, the Lord tells us in his Scriptures that we shall not have any other god besides him, and that includes the worship and elevation of ourselves. The creation cannot be greater than the creator.
Part Three: His Name
Directly following the story of the tower of Babel, we see a genealogy for the descendants of Shem, another of Noah’s sons and brother to Ham. While it may be really tempting to breeze past this without a second thought, its placement in the narrative is incredibly important. In biblical times, names were not chosen for people based on whether they sounded good. They were chosen to help define who that person was, or would become. Shem’s name literally means “name, or fame.” Take a look at Genesis 11:26 at the name that concludes the list: Abram (aka Abraham, the father of many nations).
While the people in Babel were looking to make a name for themselves through their accomplishments and power, God was making a name for himself through people (specifically through the line of Shem through which he would bring the nation of Israel, and ultimately his Son, Jesus). God says in Jeremiah 13:11 that Israel was meant to cling to him so that they would be for him “a people, a name, a praise, and a glory.” Because of the blood of Jesus shed for us, this is now our calling, too. God did not put us on this earth to make ourselves great, he did it to make his name famous and make image bearers out of us. We do not need to find a way to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world because God has already done that. He sets us apart as holy for his honorable use (2 Timothy 2:21).
There are many things we pursue in this life that are good and beautiful things, but our desire to use them to our own advantages warps the beauty in the intended purpose behind them into something shallow and broken. May our marriages be relationships that show the unconditional love of a covenantal God instead of trying to outdo other couples when it comes to date nights. May our homes be places where we serve others and build our families into disciples instead of a flashy display of decor. May our jobs be a means to be good stewards of our work and to spread the gospel of Jesus instead of a means to make as much money as possible.
Before we end, do a quick skim of Hebrews 11. This chapter is often referred to as the “Hall of Faith” since the people mentioned in it received their recognition because of their faith. Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” These men did really great things (e.g., Abraham fathered an entire nation, Moses led Israel out of slavery and through the Red Sea, etc.), but none of them received the things promised during their lifetime. They recognized this earth was not where they belonged and that the things in it ultimately held no value for them. Knowing their names would die with them, they chose to live for a greater one that would not die—Jesus, the name above all names (Philippians 2:9).
Eventually, no one will know my name. No one will remember my Instagram posts or my pool parties or the extravagant meal I hosted. So instead of building a life that glorifies me, I want to live in the name of Christ that will live beyond my time. If given the choice to give someone myself or to give them the eternal life found in the name of Jesus, I hope I choose the latter, and I hope you will, too.
- Who are you? How would you define yourself?
- Consider your actions and words and answer honestly…What do you want to be known for?
- Look at the lists you just made. How many of those things can be changed? If each shifting identity was stripped away, what would be left?
- How do you view God’s commands?
- When you look at your life, where have you succeeded? Where have you failed? How have you felt after each experience?
- How have you seen God in these experiences?
- Do you believe you are making a name for yourself or for God?
- How can you better use some of the things you care about to make God’s name known?
1 Mihaela Muraria, “WHO WE ARE? How we define ourselves? (Identity vs Roles),” LinkedIn. LinkedIn Corporation, October 23, 2020. Accessed March 24, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/who-we-how-define-ourselves-identity-vs-roles-mihaela-murariu/
2 You can read more about this here: https://www.biblestudytools.com/history/flavius-josephus/antiquities-jews/book-1/chapter-4.html
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Malory is the publishing assistant and managing editor of WHEN at Hosanna Revival. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband, their son, and their dog—all three of whom she is totally obsessed with. She loves a good story, lots of sugar in her coffee, dancing, and book recommendations. She views herself as an extroverted-introvert. Malory is passionate about biblical literacy for women and is always trying to grow in her understanding of the Bible and God's character.