If you could change anything about yourself what would it be?
Perhaps something spiritual?
This kind of question is not only common in processes that aim to help a person assess their life, but it is also the root of many stray thoughts that haunt our minds in moments when our attention drifts. We often wonder if we could have made a better decision, been quicker to act in a certain scenario, been on the positive side of a situation instead of the tragic side, etc… This is a confrontation with emotions like regret, doubt and futility.
But what if the question were different? What if you were asked: what are the things about yourself that you wouldn’t change no matter the consequences? And what if we were told that this was not a question regarding things outside of us like our friends and family members, our profession, or our opportunities, but this was to be answered with the internal and DNA level qualities that we were created with. Would the answer become more difficult or more simple?
Add in the popular perspective of traditional Christianity, which has a tendency to believe that salvation is supposed to mean that everything about us changes and becomes “holy” (despite the widespread ignorance of what that term really means), and the question of what it is about us that doesn’t need to be changed, or what is truly beneficial becomes much more difficult. We can easily believe that all of our natural inclinations and ways of thinking and acting are really just rough drafts in need of a total rewrite by God’s salvific pen in order to render us good or right or useful. But this is not necessarily the case.
In the Old Testament God is often referred to this way: “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This title carries many implications with it, but one that I had previously not considered was brought to my attention this morning. As I continued reading a commentary on the book of Genesis I came across this fascinating perspective:
Isaac’s father Abram/Abraham and his son Jacob/Israel have their names changed, but Isaac does not. The reason appears to be that Abraham’s and Jacob’s names are changed by God, but Isaac’s name is given…by God in the first place.
– Richard Elliot Friedman
As I considered what Friedman was saying it occurred to me that we are, as individuals, a picture of these three generations of family. There are indeed many things that God does in our lives, things that only He can do, powerful ways in which He changes, redeems, fixes, and resurrects us when we surrender ourselves to Christ. But that is not all that we are made of. There are some things, perhaps many things, about us that are not in need of change but are good things in need of a renewed context. Our unique personality traits, our ways of thinking and processing information, our abilities and talents are all things that God gave us from the beginning. God named Isaac, Abraham did not, and so there was no need for Isaac’s name to be changed. God made you funny, artistic, serious, influential, good with people, or reflective long before you had a chance to run away from Him. Could it not be that He has no intention of changing those things that He created you to be, but to change those things that you became on your own?
Perhaps there are some of us who are desperately trying to be someone we were never created to be, and we feel awkward in those attempts. We believe that being “saved” means we leave our sense of humor, or love for art, or gift for striking up conversations with strangers behind and become an android-ish character in God’s kindgom. And maybe, just maybe, our attempts at becoming “different” in these ways are not failing because we are failures, but those attempts at change are failing because God loves us enough to not let us succeed in suppressing who He created us to be from the beginning of our lives.
Everything in your life doesn’t have to change when Jesus redeems you. Many things do change, that is to say that many things, “Abrams” and “Jacobs,” in us are put to death and resurrected in beautiful and godly forms. But God creates us unique and, I believe, looks forward to the day of our salvation so those “Isaac” qualities can actually be used in the context of grace. Salvation brings life change, but it should also illuminate what God created in us that was right from the beginning. There is the task of sorting through those things, certainly, but it is important that we begin knowing that we have been fearfully and wonderfully made, not just fearfully and wonderfully re-made.