It probably is a holdover from my days of watching Jack Klugman in “Quincy, M.E.” – the NBC series that aired from 1976 to 1983 about a L.A. medical examiner who in each episode would turn detective and solve a homicide that had first appeared to be a death by natural causes. Whatever, and be that as it may, I did enjoy the more modern forensics series “C.S.I.” [I have discerning taste and watched only the original with Gil Grissom and crew, seldom watching any of its spinoffs]. Admittedly the depiction of the aftermath of violence is somewhat gratuitous, but I don’t watch it for the pictures, just the crime solving story that emerges. The theme song was deliberate and catchy, taken from the chorus of the rock hit “Who Are You?” originally written by Peter Townshend of the Who [surely you all remember this classic rock band of the 60’sand 70’s?]. Though not what one might call a literary work of art, there is a certain engaging quality in the words: “Well, who are you? Who are you? Who, who, who, who? I really wanna know. Who are you? Who, who, who, who” [can’t you just sense the cadence?]. They were certainly the most appropriate words for a television series that focused more often than not on the discovery of the unknown identities for victims of violent crimes.
They are also appropriate words insofar as they frame a question the answer to which is of paramount importance today. If/when you are challenged to dig deep in an exercise of existential introspection what is the first thing that comes to your mind when asked, “Who are you?” More often than not, our answer tends to be in terms of some role we fulfill. We respond, “I am a teacher,” or “I am an investment analyst”. Sometimes we even attach our role titles when we introduce ourselves, “Hello, my name is Dr. Phil.” If we do not answer the question using our role, we might turn to some relationship we are in and respond, “I am Betty Boop’s husband.” We might use body shape, looks, power position, our personality or health status, but none of these by itself allows for the incredible complexity that makes us who we are. Sometimes we might think that depending upon the circumstances we are in when the question is asked, almost any descriptor will do. But will it?
The problem with the way we tend to answer this question is that our answers are generally simplistic and depend on the status quo remaining unchanged. But what happens when I have identified myself with what I do but I can no longer fulfill that role? Body shapes change [not always for the better] and so does our health. I might not always be a wealthy man and you have a sure bet that when the markets go boom you may find me less than the optimistic personality I normally present. What then? Who am I when my circumstances change, and especially when they change dramatically?
John the Baptizer answered the question first, by identifying who he was in relationship to One Who was the Messiah, and second, by understanding and making known to the folks who gathered around him who he was not [JN 3.22-30]. Sometimes knowing who you are not is a good place to start when thinking about who you are because it greatly focuses your thinking. For John this resulted in his not being afraid that his own prominence would decrease while that of the Messiah would increase.
There are many things that I know I am not, with astonishing and rather humbling clarity: I am not perfect [neither am I so imperfect to think I am], nor am I brilliant [but I am smart enough to know my limitations]. The list could go on [and on and on …]. I comfort myself knowing that what I do does not really define who I am and therefore what I do in the future does not need to be compared to what I will [then] have done in the past: it will simply be a description of what I am then capable of doing. But it will not be the whole of who I am. To discover this, I must turn to the Baptizer’s first consideration.
Like the Baptizer on Jordan’s banks so long ago and in a land far away, I am much more comfortable defining who I am in terms of my relationship with Jesus. I hold closely the promise of God’s Word that tells me that when He is revealed, so also shall I, for I will be like Him [1JN 3.2]. But if who I am is finally to be discovered only in the revelation of who He is, then the outliving of this promise and hope now is such that everything I do [and why I do it] is to be evaluated to the degree in which it draws me closer to Him and serves His Kingdom purpose. John Wimber, who was one of the founding leaders of the Vineyard Christian Fellowships, once said, “I am simply the spare change in the Lord’s pocket. He can spend me any way He wants.” Frankly, that sounds good enough to me as well.