Finding Your True Self?

In a recent NY Times opinion piece, In Search of the True Self, Joshua Knobe, an associate professor of Cognitive Science and Philosophy at YaleUniversity, discusses his recent study on our quest to find our deepest identity. Citing everything from Greek philosophy to pop culture, he rightly sees that this yearning is a “distinctive ideal of modern life.” Knobe is wrestling with the questions: Who am I?    What drives my search to discover my deepest—and hence, real–identity?  And how can we find the answer?

According to Knobe, philosophy has traditionally maintained that our ability for self reflection makes us truly human. (Remember Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” from your western civ. class?) Accordingly, philosophy posits that our reflection on our deepest held beliefs is the greatest indicator of our true self. These beliefs trump feelings and desires  (For an interesting read along these lines, see the recent NY Times magazine article, Living the Good Lie, that discusses “Sexual Identity Therapy” and Nicholas’ blog response).

But Knobe goes on to say that outside philosophical circles, people recoil at this idea. The broader public believes the exact opposite: it is our suppressed feelings and desires that reveal our deepest identity. These desires must be obeyed for our lives to be authentic to our true self. Hence anyone with same-sex attraction (his opening illustration to his op-ed column) is urged to forsake religious beliefs, marriage vows, etc. in order to “come out” and express their true self.

So, do deep-seated moral values or feelings or desires determine our true self? Rather than a strict either/or, Knobe concludes that both views are too simplistic. His initial investigation suggests that we find our true self through a complicated process that combines both aspects – we develop a value judgment based on what we believe makes life worth living, what will create the most satisfying experience of existence.

He’s right to reject the either/or, but fails to see that our true self is only found in a radically different “third way.” Any search for our true self that focuses on desires, personal beliefs, or a combination is still limited to the self. It elevates individual perception – with all its biases and distortions – to ultimate reality.   

Fortunately, our true self is revealed by a source outside of us. Objective truth exists, reality beyond personal perception. Scripture offers our ultimate identity as those made in the image of God, created to live in a relationship of love for all eternity. In love, Jesus redeemed us while we were his enemies. The Father invites us to live within his perspective – one that sees us “in Christ,” outside of time, in our totality. Not defined by desires, behaviors, or failures, but as those who on the last day will be purified. The beautiful Bride, seated at the Wedding Feast with his Son in a marriage he arranged from before the foundation of the world.

 Are you struggling with feelings and/or attractions that the world says should define who you are?  Look to the objective truth of God’s Word, and in Him, you will find your true self as you align yourself with His design.