How God introduces Himself to us by His personal name tells us a great deal about how he wants to relate to us each day
Old Testament professor Susan Stratton is famous for her rich insights into the names and ‘Presence’ of God. Her passionate teaching in classrooms, retreats, (and coffee shops) have richly blessed her students, her children, and her adoring husband.
In a three-part post she shares a few of these insights and roots them in the spiritual discipline that has made greatest difference in her own life–practicing the Presence of God.
Part of ongoing series: Soul-nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World.
What’s in a Name? The Presence of God!
by Sue Stratton
What’s in a Name?
In some ways, luck was with me on that fateful day when my mother gazed down at the babe in her arms and named me Susan. Let’s face it, some names are easier to live with (Sue, John, Rob, Alice) than others (Sage Moonblood, Apple, Kyd, or say Moon Unit).
Susan means Lily. I can live with Lily. The name also stems from Hebraic origin, which is fascinating since I have since come to love the Hebrew language, heritage and people.
Naming and True Language
The Bible tells us that Adam possessed True Language- the ability to look deeply into a created being and vocalize an articulation that captures the essence of that creature. Of course this ability was given to him as a gift from the Creator who also knows the essence of all things.
My daughter, Ashley, has a form of this Adamic gifting. Her intuition in naming the pets in her life is truly remarkable. I am sure she will use this same insight in naming her children. Unfortunately for most of us, our names were chosen by parents not possessing this particular gift of Adam.
Thankfully, at some appointed future time, the Creator Himself will rename His own children, with a word that will re-capture our essence for all eternity.
“To him who overcomes, I will give a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Rev 2:17).
Our heavenly Father knows that names matter to us!
Names Matter to God
I also think that names matter to God. In the Hebraic mind, naming and being are linked together to form an integral harmony. This is reflected in the Hebrew Scriptures where the relationship between a thing and its name is quite important. Understanding this relationship is a valuable first step in understanding not only the First Testament, but also the reality of the God manifested through the First Testament.
In fact a good portion of the Pentateuch (he first 5 books of Scripture) is the progressive revelation of the character and ways of God as revealed through what he is called. Beginning in Genesis 1:1 God reveals Himself as Elohim (powerful, preeminent, transcendent), El Shaddai (God Almighty or All sufficient One), Adoni (Lord or Master) to name just a few. Flipping through Scripture, one finds a host of other Titles that reveal very specific attributes possessed by the God of the Universe.
However, most of these designations are merely ‘titles’, highlighting different aspects of the Divine Being and the various roles He has performed.
The Personal Name of God
As great and instructive as these titles are, they are not His Personal Name. There is only one vocalization that God gives as His Personal Name and that is YHWH. YHWH is by far the most powerful word in the universe and the irony is we have no idea how to pronounce it. Early followers of YHWH decided that this name was too holy to be pronounced, and so we have since lost the proper pronunciation because we have lost the vowels to this most holy word.
YHWH, known as the ‘tetragrammaton,’ is a verbal form of the Hebrew verb “to be” from the root hwy, later hyh, meaning to be at hand, to exist (phenomenally), to come to pass. God’s personal name carries with it a dynamic sense of being — not pure existence, but becoming, happening. You will find it translated in all capital letters- L O R D in our Bibles and is often confused with Adonai which is translated lower case Lord meaning Master.
YHWH, however, means DYNAMIC PRESENCE and is used over 6800 times in the First Testament. Deeper understanding comes as we grasp that this is not the same as God’s Omnipresence.
Of course God is present in all of his creation all of the time, but this is different. I tell my college students: God is ‘in your face’ present!
The Nearness and Name of God
Once I was with a high school Bible study group and I was sharing this dynamic truth. I was very excited for them to see the God of the universe invading all the moments of their lives. Suddenly they grew VERY quiet. Eventually one of them piped up and said:
“If you are telling me that God is with me all the time, ALL the time… that is the scariest thing I have ever heard.”
Everyone nodded. These girls were experiencing first hand the fear that can accompany the nearness of God. Just who is this God who is present with me moment by moment? I think this is exactly why God chose to reveal this particular truth about Himself to Moses on Mt Sinai in the midst of other truths that help us understand His character. Exodus 34: 6-7 describes the event:
“Then YHWH passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “YHWH, YHWH-Elohim, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.”
YHWH is present “with you” at EVERY MOMENT in your day, He is present “for you” in all the darkness and uncertainty you encounter. He is present “to you” as you navigate the back alleys and boxed canyons in life. And for those of us who have put our trust in YESHUA He is present “in us” by the Holy Spirit. Knowing that God is dynamically present with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year has changed my life.
Practicing the Presence of God’s Name
Learning to practice the presence of the One who is ALWAYS present is the cornerstone of all of my spiritual growth and understanding. Every 6 seconds the human mind wanders. If every 6 seconds we train our mind to wander to the fact that YHWH is with us right now, if we remind ourselves that He is loving us RIGHT NOW, our life is bound to change.
One day each of us will step through the veil that separates us and finally meet YHWH face to face. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that moment to be a shock to my system. I want to live in His Presence NOW in unbroken harmony with our amazing Father.
And on the day when he hands me that white stone, I’m hoping my whole soul resonates with the truth etched upon it. And as I look into those blazing eyes, I long for a smile to break upon His beautiful face and to hear the words: “Well done good and faithful servant.”