In his book Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams tells a wonderful story about visiting a centuries-old temple in Kyoto, Japan. He mentioned to his guide how impressed he was with how well the building had survived the ages, but the guide replied that on the contrary, the temple had been completely destroyed by fire at least twice in its 600-year history. Adams shared the conversation that transpired.
“So it isn’t the original building?” I had asked my Japanese guide.
“But yes, of course it is,” he insisted, rather surprised at my question.
“But it’s burnt down?”
“Of course. It is an important and historic building.”
“With completely new materials.”
“But of course. It was burnt down.”
“So how can it be the same building?”
“It is always the same building.”
My kids were talking about something similar a while ago. One of them had just learned that over the span of seven years, all the individual cells in a human’s body have died and been replaced by new ones at least once. “So are you really the same you every seven years?” one of the kids mused.
Sometimes when I look at my Facebook memories, it shows me things that I posted on today’s date in all the past years, I ask myself a version of that question. “Oof, am I really the same me that I was when I posted this idea 15 years ago?”
There was a song we used to sing at Sunday School when I was a kid that goes, “He’s still working on me, to make me who I oughta be. It took him just a week to make the moon and stars, the sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars. How loving and patient he must be, ’cause he’s still workin’ on me.”
Okay. But besides some other depressing lines in the song about being amazed that God hasn’t given up on me yet, it takes away the genuine agency we have to form and re-form the shape of our spirit. Through the course of our lives, we are co-creators of our soul’s health along with God.
If we, as Christians, want to be “people of the Resurrection”, we can embody that in small but ongoing ways – not necessarily a razing of the whole building of our self, but more like the intentional replacement of one little creaky floorboard at a time. What we call the process of “sanctification” through the course of our life is many little deaths and little resurrections within our spirit, choices that we make to align the way we think or act to be more and more like Christ. Or, to very roughly paraphrase Eugene Peterson, it’s many tiny obediences that guide our direction. This is the development of wisdom.
So when I see something cringey that I posted about my faith in my late 20s, am I the same me?
No. And that’s good. I’ve done work over the years to learn (and perhaps more importantly, unlearn) things about God, others, the world, and myself that have helped me grow and change. I’m glad of that growth and change.
Also, yes. And that’s good too. I believe that the core of me – and the core of you – is fearfully and wonderfully made. We are important and historic buildings.
I do believe that God makes all things new. I believe that we have a role in that renovation project. And I am convinced that when all is said and done, even if there are still a few creaky floorboards, Jesus will look at you, smile, and say, “Ahh, what a beautiful person you have become, and what a beautiful person you have always been.”