Names Unveil Mystery (Names Post 2 of 3)
In Exodus Chapter 3, Moses presses the voice of God in the burning bush to reveal God’s name to him. God responds to Moses, “‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the sons of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you….this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations'” (Exodus 3:13-15).
Human beings are named when they are conceived, born, or first thought of by their parents, and their names are specific and proper. My wife and I knew the names of our first four children long before any were conceived, and we have received in prayer names for future children if we should be so blessed to have more. In contrast to peoples’ names, God’s response seems enigmatic, and on the surface doesn’t appear to be a name at all. God, however exists eternally – it is in God’s essence to exist. Therefore, the response given to Moses is apt. “I AM WHO I AM” speaks of the eternal existence of God, and the name “I AM” reveals God’s eternal essence.
Let’s dive deeper into the mysterious character of God’s name revealed to Moses by reflecting on the Gospels. Whereas Luke and Matthew explicitly name Jesus in the infancy narratives, John begins his Gospel with poetic and mysterious prose concerning the name of Jesus that echos the exchange between God and Moses.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made….The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father” (John 1:1-3,9-14).
The original Greek for “Word” is Logos. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) writes on the meaning of Logos:
“Logos signifies reason, meaning, or even “word” —a meaning, therefore, that is Word, that is relationship, that is creative. The God who is logos guarantees the intelligibility of the world, the intelligibility of our existence, the aptitude of reason to know God….and the reasonableness of God….even though his understanding infinitely surpasses ours and to us may so often appear to be darkness. The world comes from reason, and this reason is a Person, is Love” (Introduction to Christianity, p 26).
He continues that believing in the Logos bestows meaning on our very existence. We do not subsist on practical utility, accomplishment, or position, but rather on love and meaning. We cannot be sustained on mere scientific knowledge and technical success. Such things have brought much comfort and alleviated much suffering. Yet, the world as a whole remains restless and miserable in the deepest parts of our souls. The self-made man tries to construct his autonomous, self-created world, but such a world cannot have intrinsic meaning. Meaning can only come from Truth itself – Truth that is not contingent upon my own making. Meaning comes from receiving the Word, the Logos, of God. This is a great mystery, but makes possible faith which bestows understanding and far surpasses mere factual knowing (See Introduction to Christianity, p 72-77).
Coming back to the surface, we can see that the name Logos that John applies to Jesus from the beginning of his Gospel reveals that our lives have meaning precisely and only in our relationship with Jesus who is Truth itself. Such a truth requires filial obedience to the One who has first loved us. In being obedient to the name of Jesus, we must be obedient to all he commanded of us.
The fruit of such obedience is the transferal of his name to us. As we reflected in the first post in this series, when God names he creates. Saint John unveils our final name and ultimate destiny in worshiping God’s name:
“His servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5).
To have God’s name on our foreheads and to see his face is to be in His full presence. The word “face” in Greek is prosopon which can also be translated presence. Presence itself is invisible, immaterial. We see the presence of a person by gazing upon his or her face. The word for “foreheads” -metopon – shares the root -pon. To see God’s face is to see God’s presence. To have his name upon our foreheads is to have God’s presence in us and for that presence to be recognized outside of us.
This exchange of presence between God and us occurs through true worship. The dynamism between name, presence, and worship is at the heart of why bearing a false name is so damaging. What is true of true worship is also true of false worship known as idolatry.
There is power in the name of Jesus. By having his name upon us we have his very presence in us! To act and speak in Jesus’ name is to receive from the Father anything we ask (see John 14:13-14, 15:15-17) precisely because we abide in the Trinitarian exchange of Love from all eternity through our baptism (see Matthew 28:18-20).
The Apostles drew great joy in bearing the name of Jesus and proclaiming his name at great cost to themselves. The Jewish authorities: “Called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42).
May we too bear the name of Jesus in order to transform and renew our culture and all of creation into the image and likeness of Jesus, the Word made Flesh!