A God by Any Other Name

worship

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” (Isaiah 42:8)

Names are really important. Take God, for instance. His name isn’t actually God. That’s more his job title, like, say, plumber or dentist or ventriloquist. If you were to meet him at a cocktail party and asked him what he did for a living, he’d probably say, “Oh, I’m God” and you’d say, “Nice to meet you” and move on to mingle with the other guests. Of course, you need some pretty impressive credentials to beGod, but anybody who had those same credentials could be God too, so it’s not something to go around bragging about. In fact, God is God most likely because he was simply the first one up for the job, and once he nabbed the spot it was pretty much impossible for anybody else to give it a shot. (Baal, the Bible’s Ralph Nader of divine wannabes, got trounced many times.) Incumbents are hard to beat.

Even so, the title God doesn’t identify much about you as a person. It’s your first name, your given name that sets you apart from the herd. There may be a bunch of Smiths in the room, but there’s probably only one Bertrand. The guy who is God has a given name too, a special name that’s nobody else’s. He calls himself YHWH. This name is so special that the Jews won’t even pronounce it out loud. Most Bibles don’t even use that name but use LORD instead (sort of like “sir”). Names mean a lot in the Bible. They say who you are. For example, a kid whose name meant He Who Is a Pain in the Butt probably didn’t have a lot of friends. (He might, however, become a senator or proctologist.) YHWH means something like “I exist, you gotta problem with that?” It’s how he identified himself to Moses in the burning bush; it’s what’s embroidered on his towels.

Names determine how people see you, even before they know you. A girl named Tiffany is blonde and shallow even if she’s a brown-haired astrophysicist at Stanford. A guy named Bubba is not a skinny wimp wearing an argyle sweater vest and penny loafers. Names project personality. (As a Fred, I know this better than most.) This is especially true of our concept of God. We’re so used to the God/LORD/Jehovah/YHWH/Jesus formula that we don’t realize how much they have influenced our very idea of who God is.

What if the guy at the God desk were named Melvin? What if the Burning Bush identified itself as Fabian or Matilda? How would you feel about worshiping a deity who was called Dexter or Louise or Renaldo? Would you ascribe glory to a supreme being named Burt? Would you ask a Herb into your heart? How about singing a hymn titled “All Hail the Power of Elmer’s Name”? Or casting out demons in the name of Jennifer? Would every knee in heaven and on earth bow at the name of Larry? What if the Ancient of Days went by the name of Barney? Could you trust a deity named Guido? Could you even like a God who called himself Adolf?

I, for one, am glad that our supreme guy’s name at least sounds like he’s worthy of worship. I can’t imagine standing before the great white throne with a Buford sitting on it. Still, I’m a little nervous. In the book of Revelation there’s a verse about the dude on the white horse that reads, His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. I’m just hoping that his tattoo doesn’t spell something like “Wally.”

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