There is a parable written by Hans Christian Anderson (1837) called the “Emperor Has No Clothes”. The Emperor loved fine new clothes and spent all his money on being well dressed. He neglected all his responsibilities for ruling the great city in which he lived. One day, two swindlers came to town, who claimed to be weavers and could weave the most magnificent fabrics with uncommonly fine colours and patterns. Their outrageous claim was that these clothes became invisible to anyone who was unfit for office.
Ah! thought the Emperor. These clothes are just for me and if I wear them, I could discover which men are unfit for their posts. He fell for the lie. He paid them a large amount of money to start weaving. The swindlers set up two looms and pretended to weave. All the finest silk threads the swindlers demanded, they pocketed. Though the Emperor wanted to see the cloth, he was convinced of their power and knew that if he could not see the cloth, he would be seen as unfit for his role. So, he sent an honest old minister to look, for he thought he’s a sensible man and can tell me how it looks. This man went into the room where the two swindlers worked on their empty looms and was shocked that he couldn’t see anything, but he did not say so. Afraid he was unfit to be a minister, he cried “Oh, it’s beautiful – it’s enchanting.” The swindlers agreed and named all the colours and the intricate patterns which the minister eloquently relayed to the Emperor. The Emperor presently sent another loyal official to see how long before the clothes would be ready and the same story was repeated. To the Emperor, the second man said that the material was so exquisite that it held him spellbound. The whole town was buzzing about the splendid cloth. Finally, the Emperor came and the swindlers pretended to hold up his new clothes, naming each garment and commenting that they were as light as a spider’s web. The Emperor undressed and the swindlers pretended to put on his new clothes. He then went to a procession out in public where everyone cried out how marvellous he looked, as nobody was willing to confess that they couldn’t see anything, for they could be seen as either unfit for their position, or a fool.
“But he hasn’t got anything on”, a little child said.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he insisted the procession went on and walked more proudly than ever.
Like the Emperor who chose to believe a lie and live in a fantasy of his own making, our culture is experiencing the deep embedding of the narrative of expressive individualism that claims one is born free and able to create your own identity. “The modern self assumes the authority of inner feelings and sees authenticity as ability to give social expression to the same…. (and) also assumes that society at large will recognise and affirm this behaviour.” 
A person is no longer seen as who they are at birth, for there is no core reality to what it means to be a human person. The end result is a topsy-turvy world of absurdity and irrationality reflected in a statement like ‘gender is assigned to you at birth’. Language is detached from meaning, truth is detached from reality and thinking is shaped by desires and appetites. In this world, ‘education enables me to express outwardly that which I feel inwardly’. Growing up is about maximising personal opportunity to perform. Therefore, the question that we face is how to raise students to live genuine human lives. For, like the Emperor with no clothes, the post-Christian identity framework is flimsy as it can never bestow the inherent dignity of human life, adequately explain the nature of good or evil or produce a stable society.
The statement, “Let us make man in our image, …… so God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1: 26, 27), is a wonderful affirmation of the inherent worth of every person and that their identity is a gift, not an achievement. Every student is fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139: 13) to reflect the personal and relational nature of God and our physical body is part of our structure as human beings.
Not only does this define what it means to be truly human, it gives meaning and direction to life, for God defines what real life looks like and it looks like Jesus. It points us back to the pathway of life that our first ancestors were designed to walk on and which they left. Created to live in God’s presence, they cut themselves off from Him and as a result, the whole of humanity was separated from God, but we are still alive as human beings who reflect a shattered image. Christ brought new creation through His life, death and resurrection, that His image may be restored in us. “The True Image-Bearer, Jesus Himself, enables others to become genuine humans at last.”  We are called to honour God in our bodies, our whole self, (1 Corinthians 6: 20) and offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12: 1-2). Knowing Him, the risen Lord, leads to a new capacity for genuine human relationships of love. Authenticity, we discover, is other-focused.
The questions for us become: –
- How do I assist students to embrace their identity as a God-given gift?
- In what ways do we lead students to see Christ as the human face of divine love and the answers to the longings of their hearts?
- How can I assist students in the context of my class and school culture, to learn to control their feelings, to act with restraint and sacrifice their desires, in order to bless others?
- How can I train my students, through every aspect of their school life, to understand their identity in terms of their relationship to God, their obligations and interdependence with others?
- How can I shape and equip them to love and serve others- their neighbours, strangers, their enemies and the wider community?
In the end, our education is to raise our students to be genuine human beings who fulfil their God-given purpose. Let us be inspired by our noble task.
“Just as God created order in the universe, so we are called to create order in our personal lives and in society as a whole. We are God’s image; we are God’s children; we are God’s partners. Within us is the breath of God. Around us is the presence of God. Near us is the home we build for God. Ahead of the task set by God: to be His agents of justice and compassion. Never has a nobler account been given of the human condition, and it challenges us still.”
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth”.
Ephesians 5: 8, 9
Grace and Peace
The TEC Team
 Carl R Trueman, Strange New World – How Thinkers and Activists Re-defined Identity & Sparked the Sexual Revolution, (Illinois: Crossway, 2022), 22
 Nicholas Tom Wright, Broken Signposts – How Christianity Makes Sense of the World, (New York: HarperOne, 2020), 130.
 Os Guinness, The Magna Carta of Humanity – Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom, (Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2021), 250.