Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's In The Name?

On Thursday, I was up at SFU to help a friend with the set-up of a talk that he was giving for a new faculty initiative that he'd started recently, and drop in on my former research lab to check on some things. It was also the last day of United Way's book sale, and having picked up 4 books for $2 each (incredible deal!) I'd decided to have one last look to see if there were any nuggets remaining.

Apart from a Reader's Digest Illustrated Bible, my eye fell upon a book with a purple jacket and gold lettering called 'To Know Him By Name'. It turned out to be a beautifully calligraphed volume talking about the very same things I'd written about in one of my previous posts, "Withstanding God's Tests For The Sake Of The Name". The description on the inner sleeve went as follows:

"In the heart of every man and every woman is a longing: to somehow know and understand the God who is beyond our limited understanding. To catch a glimpse of the One our eyes cannot physically see.

Of course, God is entirely, and wonderfully, unknowable. It is this very fact which often reminds us that He is, indeed, God. Yet although we can never understand all of Him, we can explore many facets of His character. We can know God as a trusted friend. We can find hope and courage in knowing Him as protector, healer, provider, creator, and much, much more!

God calls you tenderly by name. Make sure you can call Him by His own. Experience the beauty and power found in fifteen of His biblical names in To Know Him By Name."

Thumbing through the book, I thought again about that previous post, and what I'd written. This time, not about why His name is important and meaningful, but why the God revealed in the Bible and Christian faith is distinctive because He has a name, or even fifteen different ones that He's addressed by. So what if He has one name or more? Why does that make Him different from the Allah of Islam, Brahman or the 330 million deities of Hinduism, or any other faith that puts forward an explanation for origin, meaning, morality and destiny? Two ideas seemed to emerge after a bit of thinking.

Firstly, I think that it is not just that God has a name, but that He is willing to share His name with those He calls His people. It is not just that He is "El", the Powerful God; it is more - that He is willing to impart that power to me, because I need His power in my frailty. He is not just El Emet, the Truthful God; He is willing to impart that truth within me, so that I can stop being a liar and become truthful like Him. He doesn't keep the name "El Yeshuati", God of my Salvation to Himself; He is actually willing to use it to save me. And perhaps most telling of all, it is that He is willing to extend the best name that He has to me - "Father", and call me to be a son in relationship, though I had nothing worthwhile to offer Him.

I believe the implications of this are both significant and powerful in the struggles and challenges I face in everyday life. I believe it calls me to see, think and approach the circumstances that I face differently, because His Word is explicit that God is eager to share the power behind His name to help me through those events. Beyond that, I believe that it is a significant and powerful distinctive of the Christian faith. I do not know of any other deity that is as explicit and willing as the God of the Bible who voluntarily puts His name on the line for His people over and over again, from first book to last:

"If my people, who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV)

Secondly, I realized that it isn't just that He has His own names that I address Him by. In calling me to be a son in relationship, He is also able and willing to give me a name of my own, one that He has promised to reserve exclusively for me when I see Him face to face. In the book of "Revelation", the last and final book of the Bible, one of the great rewards Jesus promises those who persevere with Him to the end is a new name:

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 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." (Revelation 2:17, ESV)

"So what?", is among the first thoughts that spring to mind. What's the big deal in getting a new name? I'm fine with the name I've got now. I don't mind being called Kevin, or John, or Peter or whatever else it is that I got named with at birth or christening. I think I've missed the point. Although my name is Irish in origin and means "gentle, lovable", it name doesn't really describe who I am. It doesn't even tell me much about myself. For most of us, we've had to find out about ourselves the hard way - hardship, disappointment, struggle, rejection, heartbreak, introspection, therapy, counselling and a myriad of other scenarios that only provide bits and pieces of insight here and there.

I'm not sure this is conclusive, but I believe that when God finally gives me the new name that He has promised, it will say everything about me than I could ever have pieced together from the broken perspectives that are offered to me in this life. I think it is for this reason that the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that the only one who ever really and truly knows us in entirety is God, and for the same reason that He is able to promise us a new name that only we will know - because He has known it first.

When God revealed Himself to humanity in His utmost perfection, He introduced Himself as "Emmanuel", because it meant that He had come to be with us. If you've been seeking for someone who will know and call you as you really are, and you haven't met this God that I write about, may I encourage you to call Him by His name - Jesus? He has promised to answer those that seek Him with all their heart, and promised that He will not be far away and slow to respond.

Call. He will answer.
- The Wisdom Seeker