The Names of God
It's during times of difficulty that you quickly learn what's truly in your heart and mind. What are the things you've been feeding on for the past few years and what comes out during those times when you're going to have to have moments of going on automatic pilot?
I've had times in my life when what I was ruminating on wasn't so great. You reap what you sow, in terms of a healthy thought practices. I'm thankful that this year, when I need to draw upon deep spiritual reserve more than ever, some good stuff is just "in there," some of it from very long ago...
I'm appreciative of my rather broad church array of church experiences and while I've homed in on the Reformed Protestant tradition as my theological...well...home, I do appreciate aspects of pretty much all Christian church traditions.
In my teens, I loved Gordon MacDonald's book, Christ Followers in the Real World: Developing a Faith That Works in the 90s (Still on Amazon! And, still relevant beyond the 1990s!). In it, MacDonald kindly and considerately walks through numerous church traditions, reflecting on the spiritual good that each one brings, the richness of each tradition, and how we can learn from each one.
Later, I started reading a lot of Richard Foster, and he quite frequently takes up this same cause. I'm currently reading Streams of Living Water: Essential Practices from the Six Great Traditions of Christian Faith and am savoring each section. I'm appreciative of his openness to talk about the best of each "stream"....as well as critique the pitfalls that, unfortunately, some 20+ years since he's written it, are still true or have worsened.
Recently, some of the Names of God popped in my head...from memories long ago in Charismatic churches, and also from more recent interactions with Pentecostal friends. I know that religiously observant and traditional Jews were (and are) very careful to neither say nor write the Name of God, as revealed in Exodus 3, nor six other names that require special care from scribes. Even the word "God" is treated as sacred and written "G-d."
This is a good reminder to us to not take God's Names lightly. If even a fraction of what we have learned about God is correct, holy reverence is indeed the right tack to take. Using God's name in a talismanic kind of way, as if evoking a magical spell, is not at all the approach shown historically in either Judaism or Christianity.
And yet, as I've previously blogged about how touching it is when friends and family use our preferred names and nicknames (indicating closeness and care), I think we see a similar kind of comfort, care, and connection that can come from learning about and hearing one of God's Names. After all, we are given quite a few of them in Scripture, beyond the sacred Name YHWH in Exodus.
One that came to mind lately is Jehovah Jireh. Now, "Jehovah" is not a correct translation of YHWH. It arose as a consequence of this holy reverence of the sacred Name of God. Because it was never pronounced, no one knows how to pronounce it! "Jehovah" came from combining YHWH with another rarely said Name, "Adonai." And the "J" sound does not exist in Hebrew. So, "Jehovah" is incorrect both grammatically and historically (having arisen in Bible translations in the 1500s).
And yet, the Names of God are still in Scripture. Depending on your translation, you can see either "Jehovah" or its translated meaning. One example occurs in Genesis 22, where we see the troubling and puzzling story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac on Mount Moriah (also the site of the future temple in Jerusalem). There are so many commentaries and writings, both Jewish and Christian, about this event and I don't have space here to sidetrack on an explanation of the binding and sacrifice of Isaac.
I can just say that right now, when my daughter is about to start immunotherapy for an extremely rare sarcoma that has spread to her lungs, I am finding great comfort in Genesis 22.
And here's why.
The ultimate outcome was that God Provided. Jehovah Jireh. This translation/transliteration may not be correct, but the phrase, "the Lord will provide" (YHWH Yireh) appears twice in this chapter. Isaac, likely a teen or pre-teen like my son, becoming perplexed and perhaps even a little scared, asks his father Abraham, "The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham answers, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22: 8). It's this act of faith that earns Abraham a second paragraph in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews, chapter 11. The author of Hebrews calls Abraham, "He who had embraced the promises." Abraham wasn't sure exactly how, when, or in what manner (one train of thought we learn in Hebrews is a possible resurrection of his son), but he was thoroughly convinced that the Lord would provide.
Then, when God did indeed provide a ram for the sacrifice, we're told, "So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided" (Genesis 22:14). Those older English translations translate The Lord Will Provide as Jehovah Jireh. Regardless of the historicity of that transliteration, YHWH Yireh is the place where God provided for both Abraham and Isaac...and Sarah, who, I've often wondered about, picturing her waiting nervously and unhappily at home through all of this!
You can imagine why YHWH Yireh or Jehovah Jireh is of great comfort to me right now. God's provision over the care of a precious child's life. More than even healing, I'm looking to God's complete provision for her, for her life, for her future, for all of us. Abraham's model is indeed an impressive one--he showed faith before the provision, acknowledged it when it came, and then named the whole area where it happened after the God Who Provided.
But what makes this even better for me is that Yireh is not simply "provide," actually. The Septuagint Greek translation translated Yireh as, "The Lord hath seen." Basically, the Lord sees and will see to it, i.e. provide. In his commentary on Genesis 22, John Calvin explains it like this,
God not only looks upon those who are his, but also makes his help manifest to them.
God sees our need, and provides. While I so very often fail to do either (see the need of others or act upon it), God does both. But the seeing is key. A dear church friend lent me Christian singer Stephen Curtis Chapman's autobiography this week--Between Heaven and the Real World. I devoured it. The end of the book describes the tragic death of his daughter, and Chapman is so open, honest, real, and Biblical in what he describes.
"Seeing" is a significant theme for what brought them comfort and brought them through with their faith intact. "See" was the last word their young daughter had written. "See" seemed to be a message God was sending them in the years following. Chapman's wife even writes a book entitled, Choosing to See. What did seeing mean to them?
See, their daughter is in heaven with Christ.
See, continue to see your life with an eternal perspective: Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).
See, someday we'll see more clearly. We may be in the fog now, but someday it will be cleared.
Seeing meant so much to the Chapmans, and it means so much about how God cares about and considers us. I love that the Name YWHW Yireh has this aspect. I'm always writing about contemplation and action, and another reason to do both of these things is because God does it as well. He sees, and then He acts. He sees in perfect clarity and therefore knows how best to act. And this connects us to another name of God: El Roi, the God Who Sees.
More on this next time!