Human Diversity: We Are Personal
Right Click to Download
What does it mean to say, “We are personal”?
What we are looking at tonight is the issue of our personality, what it is to be personal. This has a real bearing on the issue of God’s plan for our life, because to be personal is to be different. To be personal is to have characteristics which may make you unique.
So we’re going to look at this notion of personality–of uniqueness–as a God-given part of our nature.
But first I think we need to acknowledge that being unique is not always easy. We’re going to talk about this in a little bit. But I want to set out the thesis right away that humans put more of a premium on sameness than uniqueness. It’s exactly the opposite of God’s design.
Example: When you look at this creation and you see insects with periscopes and worms that turn into butterflies, you had better know that we are dealing with a God who loves difference.
But we like conformity. And so this makes dealing with our own uniqueness difficult. It can be a real struggle, like I went through before I got my nose-job.
God is involved in our makeup
The first thing we should know about God is that he is intimately involved in our creation and makeup. This is true for each and every one of us.
A passage I like on this is Psa. 139:13, 14. This is a passage we looked at a while back when we were talking about science and Christianity. We noted that there are some scientifically unsound aspects of this statement. And yet, the point of this statement is not to describe the process of a human incubation. The point is to describe the fact that God knows us, that God is behind the scenes steering things. And it also says that God has good intentions for us, reflected in the way we are made.
In Luke 12 it tells us something similar. It tells us that right now, as we stand here, God knows us intimately.
God is able to do this
This is in stark contrast to the way things are in the world around us. And we need to appreciate this. This is what Jeff talked about last week: God knows you, and me, and the other person. And God seeks us out. He knows and seeks out every individual.
Think about that! The big cheese, the biggest cheese, has time for you and me! This is a lot different from the important people we are familiar with. They have no time for anyone. The bigger you are, the less you have to mingle with the little folks.
But God is just the opposite. He is the most important person in the universe, and yet he knows the number of hairs on your head.
Obviously, he is different from us. He has a bigger CPU and is able to handle a mass of data.
You need to recognize him
This is the picture of God that the Bible presents. A God so vast that he creates the universe–one you can’t put in a box. And yet, a God so personal that he wants you. And he is pursuing you whether you see it or not.
Example: I love the way Jesus described God’s attitude in Luke 15, where he tells several stories about lost things. He compares God’s search for us to that of a poor person who lost their last coin. That person would sweep the whole house, move out the furniture, anything until she found that coin.
He says, “That’s the way God is about each of us.”
I’m going to bet that there are some of us here who have not been seeing his overtures towards us. There are some of us here who have been ignoring his attempts to get through to us. And we explain everything away.
Maybe it’s time to stop that. Maybe it’s time to recognize that God wants to be involved with you and that God wants you. Maybe it’s time to recognize that person who talks to you is from God. Maybe it’s time to recognize those misfortunes are from God, to get your attention. Maybe it’s time to recognize those abilities God has given you are from him and that they have a purpose.
Example: Listening to Jeff last week, I remembered one time when the awareness that God was pursuing me broke in on me. It was both a positive and negative experience. I had just come home from a very frustrating encounter, when my mother who is a Christian, suggested to me that it was God who made these kinds of things happen. That thought had been percolating in my head already (as I think all of us like to credit bad things to God). But when she said that I hit the ceiling, “I know he is and I wish he would leave me alone!” Later that night, as I reflected on things. it occurred to me, “Why does he take the time? Why does he bother?” And I realized that what had made me so angry was actually a sign of love from the personal God.
He is involved. He knows all about you. The only question is, have you turned to him and acknowledged your need for him. That’s our problem. We think we can live our lives without him. And God is waiting for us to get to the point where we humble ourselves before him and admit, “Yes, I need you. Yes, I need your forgiveness.”
If you want to turn to God here tonight, then you can. He will hear you. You can turn to God in your heart and tell him that you need him. You must tell him that you need his forgiveness for always going your own way and ignoring him.
I want to make two further points about our personalness, our uniqueness which is God given.
A horizontal focus
One is that even though God is the one who has given us our individuality, we are obsessed with what other people think about it. We don’t even care so much about what the author says about our uniqueness as we are concerned with what other humans will say about it.
Example: I have to admit that prior to becoming a Christian I was in bondage. I was a slave. Because I would look at other people and say, “I want to be like that person.” Or I would even see things about myself and hide them because I thought that they were uncool. In fact, I have to admit, I’m still embarrassed about some of the unique features God has given me. Because my focus is not on what God has done, but on what others will think about it.
The net result of this way of thinking is a pressure towards sameness. In each of us, there is a strong tendency to want others to be the same as us. And this tendency manifests itself on a large scale as a pressure to conform. When people come together, they start to develop a consensus about what’s good and bad. What is popular and unpopular.
Example: This is a problem in the church as well. It always has been. There is a passage in I Cor. 12 where Paul has to correct the thinking of the Corinthian church on this score. They were putting a lot of pressure on people to conform to a certain type of Christian ministry in the church. And Paul writes and cautions them, “Hey, the church is supposed to be like a body. And in a body, you don’t have just one eye that rolls around. In a body, there are different parts. Each part is unique and plays its role.”
So, it is in human nature to pressure one another to conform. And yet, God has given us a nature that is unique. The problem is, then, that instead of looking to him and asking, “What did you have in mind for this?” we look around us and see what other people think. I’ve seen people practically ignore and eliminate what could their most powerful and unique features because they thought others would not like it. It didn’t matter what God had to say about it. The only thing that mattered was what others had to say.
In fact, some of us have gone so far to suppress the unique features of our personality, it’s almost like we don’t have one, at least on the outside. That is wrong. Our job is to find out what God has given us and express it. But what we find most people doing is bottling it up. Most people I talk to, in fact, are very out of touch with what it is that God has given them.
And if we let him, this is one of the things that God starts to do with us. He uncorks us and starts to let our unique features show.
Example: I was so bottled up myself as a younger Christian. I was reclusive. Because what I saw looking out from the inside was that people were uncomfortable talking to me. And I looked around and saw that they were comfortable talking to each other. They called each other. They expressed themselves to naturally to each other. But with me, people were always more careful. So the way I took that was that I wasn’t liked. I wasn’t as desirable as some folks. I’ll tell you, if I hadn’t become a Christian and let God work on me, I would have become a recluse. Because that was the way I responded to the whole phenomenon. “If people don’t want to talk to me, then I don’t want to talk to them.” But God, through various means, opened my eyes to the fact that what I actually had in my personality was a character of leadership. That actually, it wasn’t that people were avoiding me. It was that they were waiting for me to initiate with them. I gave across an image that that was my role–the initiator, the leader.
And that was a God-given aspect of my personality that I would not have discovered if it weren’t for him.
The problem is that we don’t turn to God and hear what he has to say about our character.
Personalities are personal
This brings me to my last point about having a distinct personality. The point is that personalities are personal. You were designed to personally interact with other people. That is why you were unique. It wasn’t just so that you could look in the mirror and say, “Aren’t you different!” It was so that you could make a difference to someone else.
We are personal. We were meant to be personal with other people.
This fact about human nature is powerfully depicted in the first story of the Bible. This is where God creates man. And God created man first alone. But he had lots to do. His environment was perfect. God saw to it that the first human had access to everything. And God gave Adam a task, to cultivate and keep the world he lived in. I’m sure that it was a demanding, yet fulfilling job. The Bible goes on and on telling us that everything in Adam’s world was good.
But then the focus come back down to Adam, and the Bible tells us that Adam was lonely (v.16). Adam was in this perfect world, with lots to occupy him. Yet he was sad! Because he was lonely.
The Bible is illustrating by story something that we then find throughout the rest of the book: People were created to relate to people.
Example: You see it in little kids. Given the choice of the finest toy money can buy, or another child, which will grab the attention of a kid more? Even the toys are used as a means to interact with the other kids.
Once again, however, here is something we distort and ruin over the course of a lifetime. Very quickly we begin to build barriers between ourselves and others. Sometimes this happens very fast. But certainly, over a lifetime, the normal track that people take is to gradually grow more and more alienated from other humans.
Some of you are in your teens right now. And normally, this is an age when we’re obsessed with other people, “How do they look at me? Do I matter to anyone?” and these kinds of questions. We’re really exploring our relation to others. But that starts to dim. And you’ll watch people grow older and more distant from others. They’ll get married. Focus on a career. Maybe they’ll get a hobby or two. And they’ll gradually retreat from other human beings.
And meanwhile, inside, a corresponding unhappiness grows. A corresponding loneliness grows. And, perhaps what’s worse, a gradual suppression of the personality God gave us. If it isn’t being drawn out by rich interaction with other people, then it atrophies. And you really see people growing more dull, more bland.
Example: I’m sure that this is what people refer to as a mid-life crisis. It has to lead to a crisis when for years you suppress all that God has given you–a crisis of identity, a crisis of purpose, and so on.
So, this is how it is that we find out the uniqueness God has given us. If you want to discover who you really are, then first turn to God. If you haven’t turned your life over to him.
Second, tell him, “You show me who I am.” Commit yourself to him in prayer. “You show me who you made me to be. You draw out my personality.
Third, bear down on your relationships with other Christians. Other Christians will be used by God to reveal your strengths and weaknesses. Your successes and failures with other people will expose who you really are.
Example: You’ll recall my own struggle with the way people interacted with me. I would not have found out what I did, nor would I have been delivered from my bondage if I had not been seriously working on my love relationships with other people in the church.
In the Bible, God gives us a blueprint for how to get involved with others, how to love others, that you can find nowhere else. God has the secrets to discovery here and we’re going to talk about them next week.