I remember, some years ago, that the lovely Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia sang a hauntingly beautiful song called “Identify,” part of the Stigmata soundtrack. I never saw the movie, though its advertisements suggested a dark romance about a young woman who shows the scars of Christ on her body and the young man sent to investigate those claims and see if they are legitimate. I have, however, remembered the haunting song (and was reminded of its eerie sound by a hauntingly beautiful song called “A Gaelic Blessing” that was sung yesterday by two lovely young ladies during special music at church).
As human beings, we tend to identify with those whom we identify as victims. The sentiments we have to support those we see are being wronged is one of the more noble sentiments that human beings possess, though like all sentiments they can be corrupted and twisted to support evil instead of good. As someone who is powerfully motivated by those sentiments, deeply impressed by a painful life, to defend those wrongfully attacked, to stand up for the outcast and defend the victims of abuse, I can recognize that that powerful sort of protectiveness can be a motivating force for others as well, and recognize the latent dangers in that sort of approach if done unwisely.
If we identify with someone, we feel their suffering as our own. We can talk abstractly and theoretically about trials and suffering if we have not felt it, but living deep suffering, especially suffering that was not our fault, in which we were innocent victims, gives us a bond with other people that allows us to champion and encourage them (and vice versa) because we know how it feels to suffer as they did. When you suffer without fault you are connected on a powerful level with all of those people you see around you who also were hated without a cause, and who suffer because of the behavior of others and not for their own sins.
During 2004, while I was a student at the Ambassador Bible Center, a minister in my church spoke to our class about a magazine my church published at the time in order to support those brethren struggling with Same-Sex Attraction. (This magazine has since been shuttered and another magazine has the broader scope of addressing the struggle of brethren with addictions of all kinds.) Despite not sharing that problem myself, I was able to identify with their sense of shame and suffering and feelings that they would be shunned or treated like a contagious leper if they spoke up openly about their battle against that type of sin. These brethren would write pseudonymously in order to avoid being publicly shamed, and I wrote a few articles openly giving them encouragement and support. After all, all sin is unnatural to God, even if some sins may seem natural to us. All of us are sinners who depend on God’s mercy for our survival, and all sinners who struggle against sin (as we all should), regardless of what that sin is, deserve our full support and encouragement.
Being somewhat outspoken about what I think and what I have experienced, if less so about what I feel, I have found a clear gulf between those people who can identify with the suffering of the innocent and those who cannot. It is striking for me to see people who could not feel (or show) the capacity to identify with me idendify with those who slander and libel others under false names when they shrink away from identifying with brethren who write under false names to hide their own identities while struggling against the loathsome effects of sin. How ungodly is it to identify with the wicked and not with our brave brethren fighting against sin, which we all do if we are striving to be obedient to God? How can this be?
It deeply troubles and concerns me when I see people identify with those who are being punished for cause, for their own sins and blunders, and not with the innocent. If we are innocent, we will identify with the innocent. It is only if we are guilty that we will identify with the oppressors rather than the oppressed. That is a scary thing—to identify with evildoers, though all evildoers seek to justify their actions as some kind of good, simply because people have a hard time living with the realization that they are indeed evil and despicable. As we all sin, though, we can all identify with the suffering that anyone goes through, though to identify only with some people and not with others suggests a failure to see all men and women and children as being created in the image and likeness of God.
That failure is a serious one. We cannot be one or united without identifying with others. To identify with others requires that we see and respect them as human beings. So long as we can do that, we can think and act beyond ourselves and have some hope of developing the relationships and bonds with other people that help improve us as human beings. To fail to identify with the sufferings of others would make us sociopaths, and no one ought to desire such a cruel fate, knowing as did Thomas Jefferson that God is just and that His justice does not sleep forever.