As I was reflecting on my visit to Portmeirion, it called to mind the cult television series The Prisoner which was filmed there. The main character, known only as Number 6, is incarcerated in the Village, and repeatedly seeks to escape and to assert “I am not a number, I am a free man!”
Many of us can share in his view. We hate the idea of being a number, or faceless customer. We strive to assert our individuality and are jealous of our identity. And, why shouldn’t we?
The stripping away of identity is one of the marks of institutions. Hospitals, insurance companies, and the military are replete with those who want to know account numbers, service numbers, or assorted other “identity checks” that fail to have anything to do with what we ourselves see as “ourselves.”
In one of the darkest episodes of modern history this erasure of identity was practiced by the Nazi regime. People considered enemies of the Reich were stripped of possessions, positions, and even names. One such individual was Czesław Ludwiczak, Auschwitz prisoner 72124. He like many of his fellow inmates resisted this depersonalisation. In December 1942, he received a ring crafted for him by fellow prisoners who were metal workers. Upon it were the initials CL, a prisoner triangle, and his prisoner number. He was more than that number. He was a man. He was CL. He was Czesław.
While institutions may well attempt to distill us into faceless, nameless statistics, God does not. “But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine (Is 43:1).” God knows our names. He values each of us a individuals.
Jesus remarked, “6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God (Luke 12:6-8).”
We are not numbers. We are the children of God, bought with a price. We are people with a name (not a number) written in a Book of Life.
How’s that for identity?