The demands of modern life have become a self-imposed prison.  Erik Strandness reflects on the discussion between Alan Noble and Kelly Kapic on Unbelievable?, and the psychosis of maintaining our “self-made” image instead of the one God has given us.

Unbelievable? recently featured a discussion about the failure of our cultural anthropology to create an appropriate environment for human flourishing. Guests Alan Noble, author of ‘You Are Not Your Own’ and Kelly Kapic, author of the book ‘You’re Only Human’, sat down to discuss the ways in which we have constructed a world incompatible with our true image-bearing nature and offered suggestions as to how Christians should live in this inhuman milieu.


Crushing It

“When you put your head on your pillow at night how often do you feel like, ‘Man, I just crushed that day’… The reality is, it’s very rare” (Kelly Kapic)

Why so much guilt for not living up to expectations? Why can’t we just do the best with what we have instead of trying to do more with what we don’t? Why do we wake up every morning intending to crush the day and then fall into bed at night feeling broken? Rising in victory we sleep in despair. Hoping for success we settle for survival.

“Ask an honest parent, student, or employee and they’ll tell you that their goal for the day is to survive—to “get through the day,” or “make it through.” Existence is a thing to be tolerated; time is a burden to be carried. And while there are moments of joy, nobody seems to be actually flourishing—except on Instagram, which only makes us feel worse. Strikingly, even as our standard of living in the West continues to rise, our quality of life doesn’t.” (Alan Noble from his book)

The modern world has given us all the tools we need to succeed yet we still have this nagging feeling that something is missing. Thanks to technology we no longer need to fear death from lack of food or shelter, but now the Grim Reaper comes wielding a sickle of anxiety and despair. As Kapic pointed out, “The myth of autonomy is killing us.”


Read more:

Can the Bible teach us anything about depression?

Mental health, stigma and the gospel

Death has lost its sting

Fighting against God


The Shape of Water

“This is the fundamental lie of modernity: that we are our own. Until we see this lie for what it is, until we work to uproot it from our culture and replant a conception of human persons as belonging to God and not ourselves, most of our efforts at improving the world will be glorified Band-Aids” (Alan Noble from his book)

The problem, as outlined in Noble’s book, is that modern culture insists we choose our identity and define our purpose. We are encouraged to “be our own person” or choose one of the prepackaged cultural options. Instead of taking stock of our spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual gifts and discovering who we were created to be, we are given the anxiety-provoking task of manufacturing ourselves.

Both guests made the case that our identity is found in Christ and that until we realize this simple fact we will be perpetually plagued by an “anxiety of identity.” Kapic eluded to a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which nicely describes the situation and offers the appropriate solution.

Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my prison cell poised, cheerful, and sturdy…
Am I really what others say about me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
…Restless, yearning and sick, like a bird in its cage, struggling for the breath of life, as though someone were choking my throat…
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know me, O God. You know I am yours.

The modern world tells us that our identities have the shape of water and is more than happy to provide us with a plethora of container options. Life, however, isn’t about finding vessels into which to pour ourselves but about understanding how we should mingle with the Living Water.


Kapic and Noble made the case that a major reason for this identity crisis is an inadequate anthropology. Our failure to recognize what makes us truly human has led to the creation of an inhuman culture which Noble compares to a lion in a zoo. We place lions in zoos and expect them to behave like lions in the wild but what we observe are abnormal repetitive pacing behaviors indicative of a ‘zoochosis’.

He suggests that we have essentially done the same thing with our fellow humans by creating a cultural environment that is inhuman, and like caged lions, our minds pace back and forth in existential despair. Our situation is not the result of a cruel experiment but stems from an inadequate understanding of anthropology. Unlike the lion, however, the cage is of our own making, therefore we have the power to free ourselves if we can just reclaim what it means to be truly human.

“In some ways, history is the story of civilizations misunderstanding anthropology in one way or another.” (Alan Noble from his book)

Smells Like a Lack of Teen Spirit

Increased teen suicide rate, school shootings, and drug addiction: Is it really all that surprising that our young people are experiencing a crisis of meaning? We recognize the problem but instead of digging deeper to find the root cause, we superficially promote less guns, more school security, and increased availability of drug treatment and mental health programs. Nobody, however, seems interested in asking why all the sadness? Could it be that it is actually the by-product of the “cultural freedom” we seem so intent on promoting?


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In this digital age, our young people have unprecedented access to sexual partners, gaming buddies, and friends? So why so lonely? The internet promised us a global village but ended up transforming us into digital monks. I would argue that the loneliness that plagues our young people isn’t due to a lack of personal contacts but lack of a cosmic presence. They don’t feel alone in their communities but rather feel alone in the universe. We smell the decay of their meaningless lives and offer them a cultural deodorant instead of correctly identifying the odor as a lack of teen Spirit.

Swabbing the Poop Deck

“When we ask anyone, “do you think you’re God?” None of us go, “ya, I think I’m divine.” None of us say that but we really do live like we should be able to have all the knowledge, all the skills, all the abilities, and so, as that really silly thought starts to work out in our lives it creates a crisis.” (Kapic)

I would suggest that the source of the problem is the original sin of wanting to be like God. We take the Garden indiscretion a step too far. Instead of just taking a bite of fruit we invite others to harvest it and distribute it by convincing them that an apple a day keeps the Great Physician away.

Thinking we can create our own personal kingdom without boundaries we also end up with no citizens. We are forced to be king, handyman, and chief bottle washer, which is great as long you don’t have to fix a broken faucet or clean up after a night of hard drinking. Sadly, the world becomes millions of kingdoms ruled by “divine” despots who are constantly stepping across the line and gerrymandering the boundaries of their personal fiefdoms.

The postmodern project calls each of us to create our own identity, live by our own rules, and do what makes us happy. It insists that we become the master of our fates, the captain of our souls. In other words, we must sail alone. The problem is that sooner or later we have to put aside our swashbuckling ways in order to swab the poop deck. Sadly, introspective navigation is incapable of seeing danger on the horizon and without a crew to help us we end up crashing on the reefs of reality.

To be your own and belong to yourself means that the most fundamental truth about existence is that you are responsible for your existence and everything it entails…But the freedom of sovereign individualism comes at a great price. Once I am liberated from all social, moral, natural, and religious values, I become responsible for the meaning of my own life. With no God to judge or justify me, I have to be my own judge and redeemer. This burden manifests as a desperate need to justify our lives through identity crafting and expression…But because everyone else is also working frantically to craft and express their own identity, society becomes a space of vicious competition between individuals vying for attention, meaning, and significance, not unlike the contrived drama of reality TV. (Alan Noble from his book)

Pixelating Power

The rise of technology has given us an additional option. If the world won’t accommodate us then we can engage in some world building of our own. Unable to actualize our personal god-delusion in the real world we are inspired to create a digital world where we become superheroes wielding the power of the pixel.

Sadly, we will never be able to find our identity as an avatar in a virtual reality because our true identity is shaped by the way we navigate God’s world. It’s an adventure full of success and failure which causes us to rejoice in our image bearing and lament over our fallen nature. Kapic said we need to adopt a creaturely humility and accept the fact that we are being sculpted by a reality we didn’t create and cannot control. If we choose to live in a meta verse then our problem will not be sin but inadequate RAM, and salvation will be a reboot and not redemption. In virtual reality, hope is found in purchasing the newest upgrade but in Christ it’s in knowing that the price has already been paid.

Under Construction

We have all heard the cultural mantra, “Just do you.” A great slogan of empowerment but practically useless unless you know who you are. It’s a daunting task to, “just do you,” when you have no idea who that person actually is. I believe this may be one of the major stressors facing our young people today; told to find themselves, they have no idea where to look.

How can you, “just do you?” I think there are several choices. First, you can do the hard work of constructing your own identity. Second, you can sell your soul and purchase a prefab “self ” in a gated identity community. Or third, you can ask the One who knit you together in your mother’s womb to reveal His architectural plan for your life.

Building one’s identity without a pre-existing blueprint can be an extremely difficult task when the only guidance you have is the architectural suggestions of unbonded and unlicensed cultural contractors. Since these postmodern consultants only have experience deconstructing, your new identity will end up looking like the Winchester Mystery House with doors in the floor, stairways leading to nowhere, and windows opening to brick walls, interesting to visit but impractical as a permanent residence. Sadly, far too many young people adopt this strategy and end up with an identity that is always in need of renovation. Exhausted, depressed, and anxious they invite in a mental health expert to inspect their structure only to be told it is unsafe for occupancy.

The path of least resistance is to occupy a tract home in an identity community where each and every house is the same shape and color. A community where you must pay association fees to maintain talking point continuity and where citizens are encouraged to rat out anyone who attempts to renovate in a way that violates the covenants of conformity. A place where day-to-day activity is so well regulated that you never have to worry about who you are because the association has already determined that for you. It’s advertised as a safe space where the oppressed can be shielded from land-grabbing oppressors intent on confiscating it for their own purposes.

The final option is far more satisfying because it sends you on an adventure to discover who you were created to be. It avoids the daunting work of having to pour a new foundation, erect walls, and install plumbing in a self-created identity, and replaces it with the far more rewarding activity of establishing your own personal Feng Shui in a pre-existing image-bearing home. It avoids the restrictions of a gated community where your identity is governed by rules and covenants, where any deviation from the norm is met with a scolding from the association, and instead allows you the freedom to give it curb appeal by decorating it with your spiritual gifts. The Bible makes it clear that you were known before you were born, you were knit together in your mother’s womb. The blueprint has been approved, the structure has been built, and all that is left for you to do is accessorize it with your interests and talents.

Aren’t you tired of having to constantly reinvent yourself? Aren’t you tired of conforming to the identity of a group? Wouldn’t life be easier if we didn’t have to continually construct fake Hollywood sets to keep our personal worldview illusions alive? Wouldn’t life be more rewarding if you knew that Someone actually cared enough about you to create you as a unique individual? A God who gave you a set of interests and talents that not only set you apart but also make you so essential to the universe that your absence would make the world emptier.

We need to show our young people that if they “just do Jesus” they won’t have to shoulder the heavy labor of constructing a new identity or take on the rigors of conforming to a group but can find rest in an identity constructed by a far superior Carpenter.

Wouldn’t it be easier to wear a comfortable T-shirt that says we are fearfully and wonderfully made than wear a heavy sign around our neck warning others that we are “Under Construction.”

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)

Erik Strandness is a physician and Christian apologist who has practiced neonatal medicine for more than 20 years.