A friend of mine in high school drove an old, rusty car. And on that old, rusty car was a rather snarky bumper sticker. In big font it read, “You’re unique!” And then in smaller font underneath it read, “Just like everyone else.” It’s a witty line, but there’s an important question to be asked about human uniqueness. According to the Bible, are we each uniquely made? The question comes in from Dimitri, who lives in Sri Lanka.
“Dear Pastor John, I’m a devoted listener to this podcast and an avid reader of your books. I’ve found so much clarity to many theological questions I’ve struggled with throughout my life. So thank you. But I have this remaining question: Did God make me unique? I have to assume there are a lot of people similar to me across the globe, and that I am rather un-unique in God’s eyes. I have come across plenty of Bible verses about how God created us for a specific providential purpose. There are others that speak of God’s intimacy. He knows the number of hairs on our head and every tear we cry. But does the Bible say I am unique compared to others? I can’t find any specific Bible verses to confirm it, and yet I’ve heard it affirmed by trusted preachers. But is it biblical? Is human uniqueness defensible from the Bible?”
I think individual human uniqueness is defensible from the Bible, but not directly — that is, not by a quotation, but only by implication. In other words, I don’t know of any quotation from the Bible to the effect that every human being is in some way different from every other human being. There may be one, and I just can’t find it. (You should write to us here at APJ if you find it.) First, let me explain what I mean by the Bible pointing to, or by implication teaching, a person’s uniqueness and why that is important. And then I’ll close by focusing on something that I think is far more important.
The first thing we need to do is establish two foundational truths about the way God relates to each individual human.
- He knits each person together in the womb.
- He governs by his providence every single one of the millions of influences that shape what we become every day — cradle to the grave.
So first, God made every human. He made them all intricately, with attention to everything about them genetically (and every other way) in their mother’s womb.
You formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)
“You are not random. You are not a sample of humanity. You are you by God’s creating and providential design.”
Now, the point is this: The picture is not one of an impersonal assembly line. The picture is of a God with knitting needles in his hands, fashioning a garment stitch by stitch. God created you, Dimitri, by his infinite wisdom, including all the things that you like about yourself, all the things you don’t like about yourself, all the strengths and all the weaknesses, all the abilities, all the disabilities — he was knitting all of that together in your mother’s womb. When Moses complained to God that he couldn’t speak, and that God’s promise to go with him and help him was of little comfort, God rebuked his doubt with these amazing words:
Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak. (Exodus 4:11–12)
So, that’s the Bible’s first premise: God made everybody, knitting us intricately and individually together in our mother’s womb just the way we are.
Under His Providence
Second, God’s providence is the all-embracing, all-pervasive work over all of our experience. Nothing happens to you, or has ever happened to you, or will ever happen to you, except what God plans. Jesus made this point by picking one of the most random events in the world, and attributing it to God — and only to God.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matthew 10:29)
How insignificant are sparrows? Millions and millions and millions of sparrows in this world, thousands dying daily, utterly insignificant and unknown to man, and not one of them falls from a tree apart from God’s providence. Or as Proverbs 16:33 says about another kind of random event, like the rolling dice, the lot, we could paraphrase, “The dice are cast in the lap, and every decision is from the Lord in Las Vegas.” So, the point is that nothing happens to you, or has ever happened to you, or will ever happen to you, except as God has designed it.
Prism of Glory
Now, if those two biblical premises stand — (1) you’re created by God, down to the very atoms and molecules of your DNA, and (2) all of your experiences are planned by God, down to the slightest breeze that blows the strand of your hair — then what you are in all your physical, psychological, relational, spiritual peculiarities is owing to God. That’s all owing to God.
Then you take those two truths and think about their implications. And this is why I said it’s not a direct teaching but an implication. The Bible tells us to do that kind of thinking: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding” (2 Timothy 2:7).
And when you think about those two realities, you realize: Nobody, absolutely nobody, has had your experiences. They have had similar experiences, but not your experiences. You have had millions of experiences, tiny and huge, lasting one second and lasting a year, conscious and unconscious — and all of them shape you. Every day we are being shaped by what we experience. Pathways in our brains are being laid down. Data is being stored. And nobody — absolutely nobody in the world — has the same collection of millions of shaping experiences as you have. Similar? Yes. The same? Never.
You are the only person who can have your experiences. Therefore, you are the only you in the world and in history — all of it. And since God is the Creator of the experiencer in the womb and the governor of the experiences in life, the unique you is you by God’s design. You are not random. You’re not a sample of humanity. You are you by God’s creating and providential design.
And the reason that matters is that the Bible teaches that everything, including every individual, exists for the glory of Christ and the glory of God. All things were created through Christ and for Christ — for Christ, for his glory (Colossians 1:16). From God, through him, to him are all things; all things are to him, to his glory — all things (Romans 11:36). This means that the person you are, with all the uniqueness of your genetic makeup and all your experiences, exists for the glory of Christ and the glory of God.
You are like a prism, shaped like no other prism in the world, so that when the light of God shines on you, there is a kind of refraction, a combination of colors, so to speak, that only you can refract. And that’s why you matter. Your life devoted to God reflects his glory in a way no other life can. Similar? Yes. But not the same. Your uniqueness devoted to Christ is a glory to Christ unlike any other.
Uniquely Attentive to You
As I’ve searched the Scriptures, looking for a more explicit statement about our uniqueness individually, the closest I have been able to come is Revelation 2:17, where Jesus says this: “To the one who conquers . . . I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
“There is a unique attentiveness that Christ gives to every one of his people — a uniquely personal relationship.”
Now, I can’t prove that the name written on your stone, Dimitri, will be different from the name written on all the other believers’ stones. The text doesn’t say that. But here’s what it does say. (And this is what I was referring to way back at the beginning when I said that we would close on something more important than our unique existence.) Revelation 2:17 does say that there is a unique attentiveness that Christ gives to every one of his people — a uniquely personal relationship — because he says, “Nobody knows your name except me and you.”
In other words, he turns our attention away from the uniqueness of our name to the uniqueness of our relationship with him. Whatever your name (and I do think it’s unique, by the way), only Christ knows it, and relates to you personally with it. So, I would encourage Dimitri, and all of us, to devote the uniqueness of your existence to the glory of Christ, and treasure the uniqueness of Christ’s attentiveness above your unique existence.