You Are What You Love seeks to place before the reader his own self, revealed by the actions that spring from his own loves. Smith will teach us that our identity is based who we are in our souls — the way our souls have been formed to love what God loves and hate what God hates. While Smith doesn’t refer to this as “justification,” he explicitly stands on the shoulders of Aquinas and Aristotle. So, as Smith develops his view of the formation of our soul, he deals in the doctrine of justification. Therefore, this paper rests on Part 2a, which examines justification. I encourage readers to digest that before reading on.
Smith illustrates his view of identity with the 1979 movie, The Stalker. It is a tool to get us thinking about our desires. The Stalker is a piece of “dystopian science fiction”1 and produces a “discomforting epiphany”(p.27). The Stalker is a guide who takes two men through the Zone, which “has the eerie feel of a postapocalyptic oasis, a scene where some prior devastation has left ruins.” They seek The Room, which is “a big, abandoned, derelict, dark damp room with what look like the remains of an enormous chemistry set floating in the puddle in the middle, as if the Zone resulted from an ill-conceived experiment that went horribly wrong.” The men seek The Room because when entered, it will give the seeker the deepest desire of his heart.
Eventually we ask, What would the Room say is my deepest desire? What if your greatest desire was placed before you, ready for you to embrace in a wonderful and horrible ecstasy of pleasure and guilt? Perhaps the specifics of this is something you have already spend time imagining. Perhaps you’ve never imagined it in the form you would most desire. And perhaps you’ve never imagined it. You have to wonder: What would entering that room tell me about myself?
Smith says, “If I ask you, a Christian, to tell me what you really want, what you most deeply long for, what you ultimately love — well, of course you know the right answer … what you ought to say. And what you state could be entirely genuine and authentic, a true expression of your intellectual conviction. But would you want to step into the Room? Do you really know what you want? Are you confident that what you think you love aligns with your innermost longings? ‘This…is one of the lessons of the Zone: sometimes a man doesn’t want to do what a man thinks he wants to do.’”
Is the Room a good tool for us to use to contemplate ourselves?
First, consider: Is the Room truthful? It is presented in the film and in Smith’s hands as truthful. The Stalker tells of a man who was so moved by receiving his innermost desire that he soon committed suicide. Only a thing received by a man as a great desire of his could do this. If I went into the room and received a lifetime supply of bananas, I would walk away disappointed; the Room is just a hoax.
Second, consider: Is the Room virtuous or vicious? The Stalker suggests that the Zone is sentient. So is it good or evil? Does it take a side? Are there even “sides” in this film? Herein lies the main objection I have with the Room. I watched this movie and while I won’t give too much away, the Room is anxiety provoking. It subtly warns us: your deepest desire is dangerous. It produces despair and the only solution is to turn one’s back on his own desires — to not enter the Room.
The Room is a tool for thought. The real underlying question is: Since Smith uses the Room as a tool to encourage us to think in a particular way about our identity, is Smith’s line of thought virtuous or vicious? This recalls the question: Who am I? Identity is a core idea in Smith’s book. As the title says, “You Are What You Love.”
We are sinners. We have sinful desires which lead to sinful choices. And yet, in Christ, we are children of God. Saints — holy people. We are perfect in Christ. There are thus two statements that must be made about who we are: Saint. Sinner. These are contradictory; we can’t reconcile them by saying we’re 50% sinful and 50% perfect. And as though Jesus only half cleanses us.
Because of our union with Christ and our adoption as children of God, He calls us perfect, and for us there is no condemnation. This perfect identity isn’t seen now, it is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3). We are imperfect and He tells us (convicts us) of our sin. “Saint” and “Sinner” are both our true identities.
What would the Room reveal? There are two answers based on our two identities. It might say, “When you enter the room, you will find a beautiful woman, eager to love you and serve your desires.” And someone might dread that this would present a temptation that he could not resist. Therefore, to enter the room would mean pain for his wife and destruction for himself. To another, it might say, “What you desire: Your husband dead.” Or painful vengeance on the one who hurt your child. That is more than a little malevolent. In this way the Room is The Accuser found in Zechariah 3 and Revelation 12:10.
And it echoes our conscience. For the unbeliever, without hope of a given, perfect identity, the accuser and the conscience speak with the same voice. Whether the Stalker or Inspector Javert, there is no escape from the conscience, except to turn one’s back on one’s own self. This is the appeal and horror of The Stalker. It whispers to every one of us, You know you desire something horrible. And that whisper resonates loudly in our consciences. It was exactly that resonance that plagued the young monk Martin Luther.
Like the young Luther, Smith bases identity in performance: “[O]ur action — our doing — bubbles up from our loves, which … are habits we’ve acquired through the practices we’re immersed in” (p. 29). On reading this section of Smith’s book, one is encouraged to think of his identity as defined by his own desires, which in turn are revealed in his own choices.
The view of identity Smith presents here is the side of “sinner.” “Simultaneously perfect” is nowhere in sight. The revelation of our greatest desire is something to be feared because the formation of our souls isn’t done. The message is that we must discover how to form our souls and fix our loves so as to better pass the test of The Room.
When God speaks about His children, He rejoices over us in Christ. He calls us saints. The room we should enter, that by faith we’re already in, in which God speaks to us, is not in a malevolent Zone that accuses us. If I enter the room God has for me, I find Jesus and my wife and son and the opportunity to rejoice in serving others. Such are the things that I, as a child of God, truly desire.
Now, it is true that I might observe that I don’t live that way. So there is a sense in which it isn’t true; I am not perfect. I don’t always love my wife as God says I do. But by faith I know that it is true about me and when I live by it, I believe I will find that I love it. And when I don’t love it, I’ll cling by faith to the idea that it is still who I am. I hear from God what my greatest desires are: To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. So I’ll keep trying to live set my mind on living by my perfect identity. I’ll keep forming my soul into a loving soul — not to make myself into a perfect person, but because that perfect identity is already mine in Christ.
Do not take this as a complete contradiction of Smith’s work — or even a contradiction, for that matter. That would miss the point. It is not that I point to our perfect identity and Smith points to our imperfect one. I call the reader to understand and embrace the truth of both. We are both perfect and at the same time sinners. So we must face our sin and the illicit loves that lie beneath. We must consider how we got those loves, how we might get new loves, and how we’re teaching our children to love.
We should read Smith’s book. It has much to teach about the formation — the sanctification — of our soul. So while Smith’s book neglects the imputed perfect aspect of our identity, it is a deep and effective treatment of our identity as sinners and our need for the renewing of our minds and hearts.