Many people identify themselves in material terms, according to things such as their race, place of birth, occupation, and personal accomplishments. When we first meet someone, we might ask, “Where are you from? What do you do for work?” We link ourselves so closely with merely human characteristics and events that they seem to become our identity. Material identity labels are everywhere: introvert, athlete, techie, artist, disease survivor, and so on.
But material identity labels cannot reveal what we truly are. The Bible teaches that man (men and women) is made in the image and likeness of God, Spirit (see Genesis 1:26, 27). Therefore, the true identity of each one of us is spiritual, not material. Spiritual identity, as opposed to material identity, is based purely on the nature of God, and is found only in God.
As the image of God, we reflect God’s intelligence, strength, and creativity, all of which are unlimited. God, Spirit, is the source of our identity, and the more we understand what God is, the more we are able to understand what we are as God’s image and likeness—and to demonstrate that understanding in our lives. This means that limited mortal claims such as “I am not smart, strong, or talented enough,” or “I can’t improve; that’s just the way I am” are false and do not pertain to us, or anyone, because they do not pertain to God.
God, Spirit, is the source of our identity.
Understanding the distinction between mortal man and immortal spiritual man spiritualizes our view of identity. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy states: “The real man cannot depart from holiness, nor can God, by whom man is evolved, engender the capacity or freedom to sin. A mortal sinner is not God’s man. Mortals are the counterfeits of immortals,” and she adds, “Learn this, O mortal, and earnestly seek the spiritual status of man, which is outside of all material selfhood” (pp. 475–476). If mortal man is the counterfeit of immortal man, then any attempt to define one’s genuine identity in mortal, material terms is false.
A couple of years ago, with the birth of my daughter, I gained insight into the true, spiritual nature of identity, which has been key to the effective practice of Christian Science in my life. Before our daughter was born, my wife and I earnestly sought to understand “the spiritual status” Mrs. Eddy describes, of ourselves and our daughter.
A Bible passage from the book of Jeremiah was extremely helpful for our preparation: “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (1:5). This showed us clearly that spiritual identity exists independently of any material circumstances.
In my prayerful preparation, I asked myself, “Is my daughter’s true identity mortal or immortal?” I knew her true identity could not be found anywhere in matter. Since her identity is established by God, it is not dependent on physical conditions or anything she might encounter in a seemingly material existence. Her identity is entirely spiritual and therefore eternal. And if that is true for her, it is true for all of us.
When our daughter was born, we had an opportunity to put these truths into practice. My wife and I were serving on active duty in the United States Army at the time, and my wife was required to give birth in a military hospital. As Christian Scientists, we made the hospital staff aware of our desire to rely on Christian Science, and they were very accommodating of our request. We had full confidence in the power of God’s loving care of our daughter, since our own experiences of relying on Christian Science had proved it to be the most reliable system of care. We knew that since our daughter is spiritual, as God’s image and likeness, then there is no room for sickness, disease, or imperfection.
A serious condition known as meconium aspiration syndrome, which we had been warned about, appeared just before our daughter was born. Moments after the birth, a team of doctors and nurses carefully inspected her. They immediately took her to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for further inspection and tests.
Our ability to behold our correct, spiritual identity is our ability to heal.
Throughout the entire pregnancy, a Christian Science practitioner had prayerfully supported us, and we apprised her of the situation right away. We had also been blessed to work with a Christian Science nurse, who was present with us in the hospital. All of us had confidence in God’s ever-present protection, and we were utterly unimpressed with the material diagnosis being presented. We peacefully, firmly, and lovingly affirmed the true, spiritual identity of this precious child of God. The spiritual reality is that a suggestion of a harmful physical condition is erroneous and could in no way affect her health and well-being. We knew that this spiritual reality must be manifested in our daughter’s human experience.
Over the next few hours the hospital staff performed tests on our daughter, and she passed each one. No medications were necessary. After conducting the tests, the doctors asked that our daughter remain in the NICU for observation until the next day. She had a peaceful night’s sleep and was reunited with us the next morning.
Afterward, a pediatrician, to whom we had been introduced prior to the birth, asked us how our daughter could have made such a quick and complete recovery. This doctor had recently begun studying the Bible, and she asked us questions about God’s healing power. She was deeply impressed with our love for our daughter and that we had no fear. We shared with her how we had been praying and how the biblical truths that speak to true identity had brought us the peace we needed. These truths helped us demonstrate God’s law of supreme goodness and health.
This experience has helped me not only to view my daughter correctly as God’s idea, but it has also helped deepen my understanding of my own spiritual identity and has helped me begin to let go of matter-based chains I had put on myself over the years. It has helped me improve my interactions and relationships with others, as well as make progress in my career.
True identity is based exclusively on our individual, spiritual expression of God. Realizing our identity as wholly spiritual means that it cannot be offended, attacked, inadequate, or lost. God protects it. I see now that if I identify myself materially, I am directly impairing my ability to recognize and demonstrate my true, spiritual identity. If I am not clearly acknowledging my true identity as spiritual, then I am limiting my ability to heal myself and others.
Mrs. Eddy writes: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (Science and Health, pp. 476–477). Therefore, our ability to behold our correct, spiritual identity is our ability to heal, just as Jesus demonstrated; and God has given this ability to everyone. Seeing this “perfect man” is essential in the practice of Christian Science, and it reveals the practical application of this biblical truth: “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalms 100:3).