Identity theft is big business. If you are looking to diversify as a criminal mastermind into a growing market - ID theft is the next big thing! The UK government estimate the cost to our economy from this kind of 'victimless' crime is over £1.2 billion a year. The real figure is probably higher with so many smaller crimes remaining unreported. No wonder Ministers have contemplated allocating budgets they don't really have to bring in national ID cards.
What is it about our identity that is so important, so precious? The age old philosophical question, 'Who am I?' has been debated over the generations by all the great minds. A Google search on that phrase today will necessitate you trawling through a mammoth 15,300,000 hits. Last year the Science Museum in London opened a permanent interactive exhibition dedicated to the question 'Who am I?' Or if you want to explore lower culture, check out Jackie Chan's 1998 movie classic of the same name!
In the scriptures, the Apostle Paul gives us his take. ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ This from a man whose earlier years were characterised by the kind of religious hatred & bigotry that we today associate with terrorism & race hate attacks. In the early days Paul never questioned his ID or purpose. He was sure, a zealot, a man who knew the answers & never stopped to ask questions. Such certainty about the rightness of his identity led him to persecution & murder.
David Hamilton was a Loyalist Terrorist in Ulster during the hight of the troubles. Hardened in his identity & his cause, he was surprised by his very own Apostle Paul experience. In his own words: 'I had an experience of God that turned my life right side up. I was locked up one night in my cell, as usual and I looked over at my bed and there was a Gospel tract. My cell mate said, 'What's that?'
"I held it up and read it, rolled it up in a ball and threw it out the window. Fifteen minutes later and suddenly this thought came into my head. 'David, it's time to change, become a Christian.'
"I knew something had happened from the very first day I became a Christian. There was definitely a heart change in me. There was an IRA man, heard them all [the other prisoners] laughing at me in the canteen and I had had a fight with the same man two weeks before in the prison laundry, I went over to him, and said, 'I'm sorry about the fight we had.'
"He spat in my face. I had no feeling of any kind to retaliate or attack him. I just smiled at him and wiped the spittle off my face. From that day to this I've never had a fight, today I'm a pastor in a church in Manchester."
What is this grace that it can take a religious bigot & terrorist & cause him to say, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’? Grace & forgiveness changes everything, even the most deep rooted parts of our identity are transformed, made brand new.
Paul got it right when he acknowledged this change to a new man only comes in burning every bridge & following the one man who really knew who He was. 'If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation, the old has gone & the new has come.'
The kind of transformation in our identity which allows a terrorist to wipe spit from his face & smile can't be discovered at a Museum,through a Google search or even from a Philosopher - But by looking at the Man who was spat at, rejected & killed because of His identity as the Son of God. Now, by the grace of God, I am what I am.