What’s in a Name?

He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” (Judges 13:18)

Okay. Let’s get this straight. God didn’t get to be God because he makes sense. The whole point in being God is that nobody gets you. If you can be gotten, then you may be a lot of things, but you’re sure as heck not God material—well, in an immaterial manner of speaking.

But this doesn’t stop people from trying to get him. People have come up with a bunch of ideas for getting God. Plato, a Greek guy who lived back in the 5th century BC (before cable), thought God was a fuzzy Oneness who lived in Onesville, which was, like, so one that no one could visit, even by invitation. The One was so one that only really hip folks like Plato could get him. Aristotle, who was Plato’s best student, thought Plato was full of it, which pretty much takes care of that. Plato’s dead now.

Then there was this Christian guy named Anselm who lived back in 1000 AD. He came up with a definition for God that he thought worked pretty well. He said that God was “that than which nothing greater can be thought” or “that which nothing can be thought greater than.” In other words, Anselm said that God is the greatest whatever you can possibly think of. So God is a definite prize winner in something. Anselm was a monk. Anselm was a theologian. Anselm was a philosopher. Anselm needed to get out more.

Then there’s this strange dude named Meister Eckhart who came along a couple of hundred years later. He was what you call a mystic, which is a fancy word for a guy who does religion rather than mushrooms to get high. Other than that, mystics are pretty much the same as glue sniffers, except less sticky. Anyway, this Meister guy said he had visions of God. So what did he say God is like? “God is green,” said Meister. Yep. That’s what he said. “Green.” Meister should have tried LSD. At least then he might have had a multi-colored God to tell us about. But Meister is dead now too so there’s not much we can do about his monochromatic theology. All I can say is momma don’t take my Kodachrome away.

The problem is that a lot of people still think they know what God is like. I have friends who swear God is a Republican. They know this because they know how God votes on things. I have other friends who think God is a laid back cosmic donut. I like the idea of God being a donut, especially an old-fashioned glazed one, but I’ve never come across a laid back donut so I’m a little iffy on that concept. Then there’s this guy I met under the bridge named Selwin. He thinks God is a large nostril, but he refused to explain it to me so I can’t say how close he is to being right.

The point is that God is God because he’s God and that’s about it. You can’t really explain what that is. This is a major problem for people who explain God for a living. So some of them came up with this really funky idea; they said you could only say what God is not. The technical term for this is apophatic theology, which is another way to say “we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about but that doesn’t stop us from talking about it.” The whole thing goes something like this: God is not a bagel. (So far so good.) God is not the Rolling Stones. (We’re on a roll now.) God is not yesterday’s news. (Go! Go! Go!) God is not the square root of a negative number or stale beer, etc. This process goes on and on until you run out of things that God is not like. Supposedly what you have left is God. Of course, the cool thing about saying what God is not is that you’re never totally wrong, but then again you’re never right either. Which begs the question as to why start the process in the first place. Save yourself trouble. Go to bed.

Ultimately, it all comes down to simply accepting God as he is. Whatever that is. But that’s his problem.

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