11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.
12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.
Moses “went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burden.” Before Moses could be a force of change for his people, he first needed to understand what their afflictions were. This, again, is a type for Christ, who came personally to Earth and “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Isaiah 53:4, Alma 7:12). It is also a hallmark for any good leader. If the problem is going to be fixed, if the situation is going to be improved, first one must care enough to really understand the nature of things as they currently are.
Moses then illustrates the second step of leadership that follows curiosity and concern. Attention to injustice naturally causes a compulsion to act. Having come to see the suffering, Moses saw a particularly egregious abuse occurring right then and there, and he was compelled to rush forward and slay the tyrant. Though, it should be noted, he was not perfectly bold. He did first pause to look “this way and that way,” and only acted “when he saw that there was no man.” Moses’s heart yearns for these people, but he has yet to grow into the totally fearless protector that he will ultimately become.
One final thought from this passage is that I wonder whether Moses knew at this point what his true lineage was. Did he go out to see the plight of the Israelites because he knew that they were his real people, or did he believe he was a genuine Egyptian, and was merely curious about these unfortunate people? The Biblical record never tells us when Moses first became aware of his true heritage. One thing is clear, though, even if he already knew where he came, he still had yet to throw in entirely with them. He was already a good man of conscience, but he had not arrived at his full destiny yet.
I recently considered the markers we use to identify ourselves when meeting someone new. The most common descriptors seem to include what our work is, where we are from, what our race/heritage is, what religion we belong to, and what our family situation is. Of late, there has also been an increase in identifying oneself by one’s sexual and gender identity.
But why are these the sorts of markers that we use? Do these really represent the most fundamental qualities of a person? If I told you what I do for work, does that really tell you much about how I think and feel? If I disclosed my sexual preferences, would that really give you an accurate window into my soul?
I don’t think so. In my experience, most of these categories have little, if anything, to do with who a person is at their core. Really, I think we only use these because they tend to represent the smallest minorities that we belong to. The mentality seems to be “if you know what is most unique about me, you will know who I really am,” but I think this is a false assumption. Sometimes, it is the broadest of definitions that actually get the closest to the truth.
For example, the identification that I am “a son of God,” hardly puts me into a minority, but it is much more fundamental to who I really am. Descriptions like “I am a Software Developer,” or “my family is from Norway,” put me into smaller buckets, but those buckets are pretty shallow. Being “a son of God” has me in a bucket that is very wide, but also very deep.
I think it is therefore more useful to take those broader, wide-bucket categories, and then go deep with them. If I really wanted to introduce myself in a way that gave people a window into my soul, I might say something like “I am one of God’s creations, and I, in turn, share my Maker’s passion for creating new things. And not only am I a creation, but also a re-creation. I am one who has been redeemed by Christ, brought back from an addiction and loneliness that I thought I would never see the end of.”
Would this be an awkward way to introduce myself? Well, given that awkwardness is defined simply by whether it is how most other people do things, then yes, I suppose this sort of introduction would be unique and strange. Even so, I truly feel it would give a far better explanation of who I really am, it would point you to the parts of my soul that are most integral to who I am. I really think it would be a better, more interesting society if we all gave these sorts of introductions to who we are. Of course, before we could have a society where we all introduced in this way, we would first have to all know ourselves at this deep level, and that’s easier said than done. Lack of knowledge of self is probably the real reason why we fall back on the simpler, but shallowed definitions instead.
One would hope that a man and woman wouldn’t have any secrets from one another by the time they decide to get married, but this is far from guaranteed. Certainly I was guilty of keeping my wife in the dark from all the deepest parts of me. Previously I mentioned that I kept my addiction to lust concealed from her, but that wasn’t all, I was also hiding my wounds.
It may seem a strange thing, but I was able to tell my wife about my problems with pornography before I could tell her how I got hit as a child, and how I felt ashamed for wincing before each blow. Obviously the addiction was the part of my life that made her more upset, the one that directly hurt her, but it still was the easier thing for me to confess to. I never thought that she would despise me for having suffered abuse, but talking about it brought up areas that were still raw and tender. I couldn’t go there without bringing up all of the attached horrible feelings, so I had always stayed away.
My heart is broken within me; all my bones shake - Jeremiah 23:9
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
And unto Adam he said, cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; - Genesis 3:16-17
All of us have these deep, soul-shaking wounds. As Brené Brown has said, “Every single person has a story that will break your heart. Nobody rides for free.”
If you listen to the stories of two different people, one might have endured a more horrifying pain for a more extended period of time, but both lives will still hold significant trauma. The hardest thing you have ever had to go through, no matter how small it might seem compared to others, is still the hardest thing you have ever had to go through. Simply by virtue of being your greatest pain, it will warp your psyche and become your personal definition of suffering.
Coming to terms with that pain, and developing our relationship with it, is one of the most difficult things we will ever do in life. Virtually all of us will make mistakes in this arena, and we will come up with flawed reactions that end up causing even more pain further down the road.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives - Luke 4:18
And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. - Numbers 21:8
Jesus teaches us that it is good for us to mourn our sorrows, and reassures us with the knowledge that we can be comforted (Matthew 5:4). But there is a clear line between mourning our sorrows and wallowing in them. It is one thing to recognize that you have been a victim, and another to make victimhood your key defining feature.
Over-identifying with our pains and obsessing on what happened to us can lead us to reject the deliverance that is offered, because we start thinking that healing means saying our wounds didn’t matter. Even more perversely, holding on to our damage can be used as a way to justify our own misbehavior afterward. Thus, God is offering us to look to him and live, but we first have to choose to stop remaining a prisoner.
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. - Ether 12:27
Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength" - Jeremiah 17:5
The intended effect of our wounds is that in our weakness we might turn to God, who will heal and make us strong. But that requires stepping fully into our hurt, letting it wash over us, and asking for God to meet us in the middle of all that pain. But what if He doesn’t show up? What if we are consumed?
It is natural to have a fear of facing the pain, and thus many of us will never even try to take that step. We instead try to bury our wound. We act tough, we say “yeah, it happened, but so what?” We claim that our wounds made us stronger, that they made us grow a thicker skin. Or maybe we try to deny that they ever happened, changing the subject anytime someone brings the matter up. In either case, we put on a show that the wounds are unimportant and don’t need to be examined, and that we are well and past them, but nothing could be further from the truth. If we really were past them, there would be no fear of bringing them into the light. A tough wall around the wound only reveals how upset we still are about it.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows - Isaiah 53:4
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. - Revelations 3:20
One way or another, wound tends to lead to building up walls. Sometimes walls are a good thing, a necessary survival mechanism for keeping our oppressor out. Our natural instinct with physical wounds is also to cover them up, to shield them from any outside aggravation. But walls tend not to discriminate. Often they keep everything out, not only the source of the pain. Obviously this becomes a problem if we now stand before the physician and we still can’t expose our wound for healing. We need to let the physician in, even if it will initially cause even more pain, so that we can start becoming better.
Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He is reverential and respectful of our pain, so he does not force his way into our wounds. If we absolutely refuse his healing he will wait. If we never accept his help he will never force it upon us. But he really can help us if we will let him. He has felt it, he has borne it, he has descended into it and risen above it.
If we will not let Christ in, then the wound will fester. It will grow and it will infect. Most addicts don’t initially recognize the connection between their shameful behavior and the unhealed pains for their youth, but through time and exploration the links become clear. One of the greatest sources of trouble in our lives is things that we should have cried about but never did.
At the start of this post I mentioned being struck as a child. This pain was most typically the result of not being able to play quietly enough. I was expected to keep entertained by myself, in a way that was contained and non-intrusive. I would try to do that, really I would, but I was a boisterous boy, and I would raise my volume without realizing it, and then I would be hit. A few days ago I mentioned that a key part of my façade is that I try to be a people pleaser, never a bother to anyone. Can you see the connection to that from this wound?
There was also a wound of isolation. I was homeschooled, and any would-be friends were told over-and-over that I wasn’t able to play with them until they stopped asking altogether. As I came into my adolescence I wanted to have meaningful relationships with girls, but I was such an outsider to every social norm that I could never relate to them. Can you see how this wound connects to my addiction for pretend-love-on-demand?
And there were also wounds for being unintelligent. I was pushed to get into college as early as possible, being punished when I did poorly on the admission tests, and being treated as the stupid child for not making it in until I was sixteen. Can you see why I cheated for better grades and made up a façade of being ultra-intelligent?
Our shame is nothing more than a misguided way to cope with our wounds. It tries to alleviate painful shortcomings, but tragically it often does so in a way that only reinforces them. Relying on cheating and lust gave me artificial grades and relationships in the short term, but they further confirmed to me that I wasn’t intelligent or social enough for the real thing.
Our façade is nothing more than an over-compensation for the wound, where we pretend to be all the things that our wounds have told us we are not. In our childhood mind it seemed that we were denied connection and love because of these shortcomings, and so we end up with the false belief that we must project strengths in these areas to be worthy of that connection love.
And so, the wound is a layer deeper than either the shame or the façade, but it is not the true core of who we are either. Defining ourselves based on our wound prevents us from living with truth and joy, same as identifying at the other two levels. There still remains a deeper layer to uncover.
In fact, the reason the wound hurts us so much, is because it is a direct assault at that deeper core. Our wounds put us on such a long and misguided path because they make us forget who we really are. They make us forget our own divine self.
1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
2 And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
3 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.
I wonder how Joseph originally intended to reveal himself to his brothers. Perhaps if they had been willing to abandon Benjamin he never would have, except to his younger brother after they had left? Or maybe if they had tried to walk away, he would have revealed himself then and shut all the older brothers in prison?
In either case, whatever plans he did or did not have, it would seem everything was upended when he couldn’t hold his composure together any longer, and he calls for everyone to leave the room except his brothers.
There, alone with the rest of Jacob’s sons he takes off the mask. All this time they have known him only as the Egyptian prince Zaphnath-paaneah, but now he reclaims his true identity. “I am Joseph!” Then, though his brothers have already told him that Jacob still lives, he asks for confirmation of it one more time. This time he does not ask “does your father still live” but “does my father.”
The brothers, for their part, remain in stunned silence. When one holds a secret, it is a relatively small thing to them to uncover the truth of it. But to the one that has the secret revealed, it can be a major paradigm shift, a sense of one’s entire reality spinning to a new alignment. Thus, before any further conversation can continue, Joseph will first need to coax his brothers into accepting that their long-lost brother has returned to them again.
29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
After Jacob received his new name, he inquired to also know the name of his heavenly messenger. The divine being rebuked that request, and a few reasons why he might have occur to me.
For one, it might have been that the name of this person did not matter. This quite possibly was only an angel sent as a representative of God, and the identity of that emissary was not important. For another, it might have been meant to tell Jacob that he still had a life of spiritual searching ahead of him. “You’ve come closer to me than ever before, Jacob, but you’re going to have to go further if you want to know my name.” Years later, when Jacob blessed all of his sons, he would pronounce a name he had evidently learned for the God that would walk among men: Shiloh.
A third possibility for what the divine wrestler meant might be “don’t you already know who I am?” To me this answer resonates the best. It directly leads into Jacob’s statement in verse 30: “I have seen God face to face.” When Abraham had met his Lord, he immediately recognized Him and bowed himself to the earth, without requiring God to confirm it. Jacob was now being brought into the same close intimacy, and from here on out he would be expected to know his maker when he saw him.
This study felt like it had two distinct halves. The first was captured in the title: Who am I? The other was: And what does that have to do with God? An unanticipated follow-up question that came up for me was: Does being God’s creation compromise by individuality? One dynamic from my life is that I am the fourth of nine children. And many times I really felt just like that: the fourth of nine. I wasn’t sure what my personal identity was, separate from the mass. As a result, my pattern for life has not been to choose an identity for myself, but to let identities choose me. And that has led to some unfortunate results. It is not unusual to yearn to understand oneself better, I would say it is a fundamental need that we all feel. After concluding this study, I am convinced that that need cannot be satisfied without God. Let’s examine why.
We Want There to Be an Us
There is inherent in each of us a desire to be a real person. That might seem a strange thing to say, obviously we’re all real people, aren’t we? But yet we all have experiences where we feel that we are non-persons. We feel overlooked, or lumped in as just part of a larger conglomerate, or not worth personal consideration. In times like these we receive a message that we might occupy a space, but we are not a seen, validated identity. Being a person is essential to being a person. We cannot abide the contradiction of feeling that we aren’t what we obviously are. We feel hurt when a sense of non-personness arises in us because it is contrary to our very nature. Just as the pain in our hand teaches that touching the hot stove is wrong, the pain in our heart teaches that accepting the role of “nobody” is wrong as well. And this is healthy and natural. When we were formed, we were designed to have this need for the self. It is neither a mistake nor a selfishness to demand that we are full individuals, that we are distinct and totally real persons, that we are our very own soul. This sense exists in us because He is a very real person, and He made us in His image. Genesis 1:27- So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Luke 4:13- And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.
We Get Lost Looking For Us
Perhaps the greatest paradox of all: no one is so lost as when searching for themself. Unfortunately we most often respond to those moments of doubting ourselves by trying to build up artificial identities instead. We try to win the attention of those that overlooked us, which most often leads to either radical conformity or radical defiance. Whether they see us because they love us or see us because they hate us, we intend to make them see us. Of course playing for the attention of the very ones who ignored us is a losing game. The fact that we try to prove our somethingness instead proves how deeply we feel our sense of nothingness. The more we try to pour into these facades, the less real us we have to work with. In the end the only point we prove is our sense of having no worth. We would rather be something bad than to not be anything at all. But the lie is in believing that those are our only two options. Luke 15:18-19- Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. Exodus 3:11- And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
God Rescues Us From Ourselves
But because we have claimed these identities as our own, we often find it difficult when we hear that God refutes them. To be sure, the statement that “God loves me just the way that I am” is 100% true. But that doesn’t mean He wants me to stay just the way that I am. He isn’t that cruel. God does not come to save me because He despised who I was. He comes because I despised myself, and He wants to prove to me that I am still worthy of love. I hated myself, and He came to help me see that what I thought was myself was not myself. What I hated was but a shroud, while my actual self has been preserved just the way it should be. He invites me to let go of the artificial identities that gave me no pleasure. He says that it is time to stop letting these identities choose me, to let Him choose for me instead. He tells me that in His family I am neither four of nine, nor one of billions. I am just me. The only one of me that He has. And He proceeds to teach me to myself. It goes against the grain to admit it, but there is no real me without God. It takes humility to say that I do not define myself, that He does. It hurts my pride to confess my nothingness. But as I do, I finally find my somethingness. John 15:16- Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. Luke 15:24- For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. Genesis 17:5- Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham.
And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.
When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.
But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?
And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God… And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. In the account of Jesus’s temptations in the desert, twice the nature of his divine identity is brought under attack. Satan tries to stir doubt that Jesus really is who he is, and goads him into proving hos holy sonship. It is an ingenious ploy, for to rise to the challenge and prove that he really was the son of God, would be for Jesus to reveal that he actually had an insecurity about it. If you really know that you are who you are, you don’t need to prove it to anyone. Jesus resists the temptations, and finishes the encounter safe and secure. Surely, though, this was not the end of the his and the devil’s duel. Indeed, the entire exchange finishes with the telling phrase “he departed from him…for a season.”
Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. Is not this the carpenter? Tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God….He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? Art thou the King of the Jews? In fact, a review of the gospels readily proves that the assault on Jesus’s identity was far from over. Many times the claims of his divine sonship was challenged, questioned, and rejected. People tried to tell him that he was a carpenter, a devil, a blasphemer, a prisoner. Even those that probably meant well mislabeled him as John the Baptist, or some other prophet. At one time Jesus remarked that even his own disciples did not know who he really was (John 14:9). Satan knew that Jesus’s entire mission could be broken if he could get the Savior to question who he really was. If he could make Jesus unsure, even once, he would be defeated. But Jesus was sure.
A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he came to himself, he said, I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me The son took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son Previously we considered how the disciples had already carved out identities for themselves before Jesus gave them a new role to fill. In the parable of the Prodigal Son we meet another who tried to carve out an identity for himself, this time to devastating results. For the Prodigal Son was born with an initial identity, but he rejected it in favor of his inheritance. He did not care to be his father’s son, he would rather be a spender and an enjoyer. But he found that we was unable to sustain that role, and when it was gone he was left to instead play the part of hungry and ashamed. After suffering for a time, he had a glimmer of hope, and chose yet another identity for himself: not a son to his father, but a servant. Thus he went from a son to a rioter to a starver to a servant.
But the father said, this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found And this is why God disrupts us in our lives and gives us identities that we did not ask for. Because the ones that we give to ourselves aren’t very good! We might assume that when we are left to our own devices we will give ourselves the identity of hard-worker, or accomplished man, or beautiful woman, or great friend. But when left to our own devices that is never how things actually play out. Instead we end up putting ourselves in the roles of sinner, ashamed soul, and self-doubter. When we try to define ourselves, we define ourselves as bad. But when we go to our Father, He meets us on the road, takes away the toxic role that we have chosen, and gives us the identity of Son or Daughter instead.
Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? When God extended His calling to Moses, Moses showed surprise. “Who am I, that I should go?” he asked, believing that he wasn’t the right person for the job. His doubt is understandable, because who Moses was at that time was not the person that God was calling him to be. But then, who exactly Moses was had been a very fluid concept his whole life long. Moses had been born a Hebrew slave. But that was not who he was meant to be. He was liberated from that position and instead given the role of an Egyptian prince. But that was not who he was meant to be either. Moses rejected the identity he had been given, and finally chose one for himself, that of a shepherd in the desert. But that was not who he was meant to be either. In the end, Moses’s identity was not to be defined by the situation of his birth, or the titles others tried to put on him, or by the vocation he, himself had chosen. In the end, his identity was to be the one that God alone gave to him.
Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas There is a theme in the scriptures of people being given a new name in association with finding their calling in life. This is a moment of extreme importance, usually based around a turning point, where the old person is remade into something greater. Especially important is who it is that is giving out these new names: God or Jesus Christ, the same individuals who seek to give us a new life, a new identity, a new purpose to follow. These are the original creators of our souls, and also the creators of our new soul, after we choose to come to them. Therefore, the question of “who am I?” can be replaced with another question, that of “who will God make me into?” Though it goes entirely against the grain of worldly philosophy, we do not make ourselves. Perhaps we choose our own destiny, but we choose it from the options that He gives us. If you ever want to really know who you are, you have to start asking Him who He thinks you are.