What's the source of our identity? What is the root of our being? What is the ultimate being of our life? What is the ultimate cause of our being? These are questions that are raised by the philosophical discipline called ontology. Rene Descartes asked these questions and came up with cogito ergo sum which is Latin for "I think, therefore I am." He determined that his ability to reason is the source of his being. As I've reflected on how we do life today, I think there are many other options that lie at the source of our being. While most of us don't think about these things in what we might call an ontological way, we all live according to a certain ontology. For instance,
I feel, therefore I am.
I have fun, therefore I am.
I work, therefore I am.
I have power, therefore I am.
I make money, therefore I am.
I possess, therefore I am.
I'm sure we could add to this list. For those of us who follow Jesus, we might add something like, "I love, therefore I am." We get our identify out of the fact that we love God and others. We try to do life as Jesus did life. However, there is a problem with this. It assumed that the "I" is the source or the cause of "my" being. In fact all of these examples above assume this.
Allow me to quote from the great theologian John Zizioulas on this. It's a bit dense, but worth the effort:
"Beings exist as particular, therefore, only as gifts of the Other, who grants them an identity by establishing a unique relation with them. In this kind of ontology, in which the Other and not the Self is the cause of being, we not only leave behind the Cartesian ontology of 'I think, therefore I am', but we also go beyond 'I love, therefore I am', since the latter still presupposes the Self as somehow causing being (by love). The proper way of expressing the ontological character of love in an ontology of otherness would rather be: 'I am loved, therefore I am'. Being is a gift of the Other, and it is this very gift that constitutes love; if love does not grant or 'cause' a unique identity, it is not true love; it is self-love, a sort of narcissism in disguise." (John Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, 89)
I am loved, therefore I am. And to be loved is to be loved in relationship. This means that my identity is a gift that arises out of the relationship with the Other. And this means that I'm uniquely loved because my relationship with the Other (God) is different and distinct from the relationship the Other (God) has with anyone else. God's love is universally great, but God doesn't love us all the same way.
This is not universalized love. This is particular love. God loves you in God's relationship with you and thereby you are uniquely you in that relationship. You don't need to find your identity in the way that someone else has done it. You don't need to live up to some kind of ideal way of being. The real you arises through God's love for you.
Is this a concept that's hard to grasp? Yes of course. It's called a mystery. And the only way we can enter into our uniqueness is to enter into the mystery of God's unique love for each of us.