ewis Reining grew up in an all-white neighborhood in northern Virginia. Born in South Korea, he was adopted as an infant by white parents. Throughout elementary and high school, most of his friends and classmates were white. Though he stood out somewhat in appearance, he always felt as though he fit in culturally.
When he went to college, however, suddenly he was confronted with a far more diverse ethnicity among the student body and staff. And it was there that he began to question his identity. “I became hyper-aware,” he says in an NPR “Youth Voices” segment, “that while I felt white, I looked Korean.”1
So, in an effort to get in touch with his Korean roots, as a junior he went to study for a year at a college in Seoul. “Perhaps by talking, eating, and living with Koreans,” he says, “I might find the kind of connection that I didn’t feel here in America.”2
But in the land of his true ancestral home, he unexpectedly encountered a disconnect of another kind. In Korea he fit in physically well enough, looking pretty much like everyone else, but now his unfamiliarity with the language made him stand out in other ways.
Then, one day, he heard of a live professional video game match in Seoul. It featured “Starcraft,” his favorite video game back in the U.S. So he decided to go see what this competition was all about.
For Lewis, this turned out to be a momentous decision. But it was significant for reasons other than what is often leveled at gaming and gamers. Some outspoken critics of role-playing and video games have asserted that such activities lead to unbalanced and extreme thinking among vulnerable young people. Lewis, however, has exhibited no antisocial behavior, no psychotic meltdown, no expression of pent-up rage.
Instead, he seemed to have found himself.
In South Korea, professional video gaming has achieved considerable popularity as a spectator sport. In much the same way as fans in other parts of the world who enjoy competitive sports like football, basketball, and cricket, a growing number of people in South Korea buy tickets to watch professional gamers compete with one another—and with the computers—for amazingly high stakes. And professional gamers are celebrities.
The venue is much like a televised game-show set: bright lights, large video screens, amplified sound. “I watched transfixed,” Lewis says of his very first contact with this technological spectacle, “as futuristic humans tore through ET-like aliens with gunfire and tank shells. The crowd cheered loudly,” he says, “and I found myself joining in. It didn’t matter that I didn’t speak Korean fluently. These were my people.”3
It has been said that today’s world is a multiplicity of cultural worldviews. Society has been described as a kind of marketplace of ideas. Generally this has been meant to describe major forces of thought: the so-called “isms” that divide the world into vast and various populations.
But today’s world is divided further into “micro-isms” as well. And these are comprised of much smaller—but no less passionate—demographic groups of people who share similar, sometimes narrow, interests. “When I got back to the U.S.,” Lewis Reining says, “I felt I had regained the sense of belonging I’d lost. But it wasn’t about race or nationality, as I thought it would be. It was about doing what I loved with people who loved it too.”4
Thanks to media and technology, there are now countless thousands of possible subcultures—most of them very obscure—that the individual may gravitate to. The Internet, which offers a staggering amount of information, would seem the ideal place for someone to expand his or her thinking, to become more and more open and tolerant of the ideas of others. But, in fact, the opposite has been the case. Most Internet users, rather than exploring diverse and broadening ideas, surf only to places where their own ideas are expressed, often in even more extreme terms. This is a kind of ideological incest. If ideology can be compared to genetics, this intellectual inbreeding too often leads only to hardened, crippled thinking—and further alienation from anyone who thinks differently.
Yet each of us is hardwired for connectedness. And it comes from our original relationship with God. It is part of God’s nature: “ ‘Let Us
make man in Our
image’ ” (Gen. 1:26, NKJV, emphasis supplied). This suggests at least a plurality of the Godhead. The Trinity cooperated mutually in the creation of humankind, and it may be inferred that the Trinity looked forward to a sense of connection with these newly created beings.
This relevance between the nature of the Trinity and the nature of humankind is not insignificant. “This biblical God,” writes Bertil Wiklander, “is an interactive Being who seeks relationship with you and me, and the essence of the Trinity is the relational quality of love—a unifying power of community [among] single and unique individuals. God created us as individuals with unique and individual power to be, think, and act, but He also wants to relate [to] and communicate with us.”5
For us the need for relationship, then, is part of being created in God’s image. At the close of the Creation week, God showed how important it is to Him—and to us—that we should be in relationship with one another—Creator and creature.
But then the connection was lost. Sin has “separated [us] from [our] God” (Isa. 59:1, adapted).6
Our connection has been cut off—by us.
After the Fall, the first recorded response from God was, “ ‘Where are you?’ ” (Gen. 3:9). It is not too difficult to read a tone of wistfulness into this question from God as He walked through the Garden in the cool of the evening.
Later in the Old Testament, evidence of God’s wish for connection to humanity occurs in the account of the Exodus: “ ‘Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them’ ” (Exod. 25:8). Again, physical proximity implies the desire for relationship.
“While God fills the universe,” William Johnsson writes, “He delights to dwell with people. Despite all the misconceptions of God that have flourished in the past and that still abound, the Bible teaches us that God does care.”7
Human identity was intended by God to be an expression of one’s relationship to God. It is supposed to be a part of who we are.
“God is God to us,” writes nineteenth-century Scottish poet, George MacDonald, “not that we may say He is, but that we may know Him; and when we know Him, then we are with Him.”8
We sometimes hear—even among secular thinkers—of the search for self. Seen on a t-shirt: “I’m in search of myself; have you seen me anywhere?” The search for self is nothing more than the search for God and for a connection to Him. To know God is to know truly who we are.
1. < Http://wamu.org/news/11/09/01/youth_voices_losing_ones_identity_finding_another.php>, accessed September 2, 2011.
5. Bertil Wiklander, “Three in One,” in Miroslav Pujić and Sarah K. Asaftei, eds., Experiencing the Joy (Stanborough Park, Eng.: Stanborough Press, 2010), p. 43.
6. All scriptural references in this article are from The New King James Version of the Bible.
7. William G. Johnsson, Behold His Glory (Hagerstown, Md.: Review & Herald Publishing, 1989), p. 21.
8. George MacDonald, There and Back (Boston: D. Lothrop Co., 1891), p. 364.
Gary B. Swanson is associate director for the General Conference Department of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries. This article was published on November 30, 2011.