In my life, I’ve had the opportunity to meet people from a lot of backgrounds. Many of them – especially colleagues at work – I get to know through e-mail before I meet them in person. However, in an increasingly tele-connected environment, getting to talk to someone – even halfway around the world – is relatively easy to arrange.
As we talk, though, one thing is important to me: How does the other person pronounce his or her name? Some names from other countries aren’t familiar to me, but others might read one way (to my American eye) and be pronounced another. Even people with common names from my country might prefer their given name, or a nickname, or sometimes even a middle name. In every case, we can show others respect by following their wishes for what they want to be called.
As one might imagine, the best way to answer this question is to ask the other person (no kidding!). I have found this to be a great icebreaker, as well: “How do you pronounce your name?” (That also works when you’ve totally forgotten the other person’s name, but if they reply with something obvious, like “Mike”, your lapse in memory will become apparent.) The answer to this question can also lead to discussions about the person’s background, family, culture, or other interesting stories.
In a similar fashion, many have sought to understand the nature of God in this world. Viewing the universe around us, and experiencing phenomena beyond our ability to explain, a lot of people come to the conclusion that there is something – even Someone – that must exist outside of our finite perception. However, the follow-up questions are more challenging to answer: is that “higher power” consistent or capricious; righteous or callous; involved or absent; transcendent or finite, etc.?
Rather than guessing, though, or thinking that we can figure it out on our own, another rational solution is to ask. We teach children, scientists, investigators, and all critical thinkers to ask primary sources to learn the truth, and it seems logical to address questions about the reality of the universe no differently.
Moses, upon encountering God at a burning bush, was insightful enough to ask this very question (admittedly, while Moses was apparently trying to get out of God’s assignment for him).
But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.
This is my eternal name,
my name to remember for all generations.
Exodus 3:13-15 NLT
Imagine that name for a moment: Whether we are thinking about the past, the present, or the future, God is “I AM”. He just “is”. All of time is like the present to Him, because He exists outside of the entire history of the universe that we know. He brought our physical world into existence by speaking it so, and He will wrap it up when the time of His choosing comes.
Our scars of the past, our pain in the present, and our fears for the future – every one of these is front and center to God’s sight (we might say that they are “current events” to Him) , and each are being woven together into a plan for those He loves (hint: that’s everyone, including you and me).
By learning His name, we know more about the nature of God: He is indeed transcendent (existing outside of His creation), and He is not finite. With that in mind, we can continue to ask God about His nature; match up His replies with His observable actions, power, and commandments; and continue to learn more about Him.
The Bible gives many more Names of God, and His followers have described Him in many additional ways, according to His work in their lives. However, regardless of which of God’s attributes feel most significant to us on any given day, I encourage each of us to ask God what He should be called or how He should be described, and to build our understanding of Him from what He says and does in response to our search.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Luke 11:9-10 NLT