Naming Rites

Blog, Featured — By on October 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm

 

An animal enters a whole new world when it gets a name. An animal without a name is one of many – just an indistinguishable part of a set. But when an animal is named, it becomes part of, connected to, the one who gave it a name.

In wars, the enemy rarely holds an individual name. We usually come up with some comprehensive name that sums up our enemy’s religion, race, or political beliefs, but it is too much of a moral stretch to imagine that each enemy warrior is someone’s child, spouse or parent.

We need our enemies to be bland, generic and interchangeable. To accept them as humans, with obligations, worries and relationships much like our own, to accept them as people in fact with names, is more than most of us can handle.

When I see my doctor, the main thing I want from him is not medicine, advice or even healing; I want him to put a name on my condition. Once a name is proclaimed, I and he, can begin to roots, duration and cure of my condition.

I have to admit, though, this rarely happens. In sickness, as in everything else it seems, I just can’t seem to keep within the lines.

Naming of anything, an animal, an enemy, a disease or a relationship is the beginning of control and definition.

Who are we when no one knows our name?

Listen to how we define ourselves by the names of our vocations, our citizenship or our beliefs. We frame and define ourselves by our names.

The book of Genesis starts out with the divine command to take care of the garden – and the first “work” is the naming of the animals.

According to Genesis 2:19, the animals come before Adam  to receive their names. After that, the animals are complete, and from that point on, inhabit their own world.

When Moses prepares to return  to Egypt, after his desert encounter with God, to confirm his legitimacy, he asks God’s name.

It’s a reasonable request; the Egyptian gods have names, and if Moses is confronting  Pharaoh under divine authority, surely this God should have a name.

But, as always, the God of the Bible gives an answer far beyond the expected; “ I am who I am” is the usual translation. Some scholars say it is more like “ I am becoming what I am becoming”. Either way, it is not a normal name for a deity like Vishnu, Thor, Ra or Osiris.

Instead of a standard name, the God of Moses is the ultimate un-nameable, indefinable, inexpressible Being beyond being.

Any God worthy of the title is, by definition, beyond comprehension, literally infinite, vastly more alive in every sense than we are (He is, after all, the source of all life).

To imagine that God could be summed up by, defined by, human words and theoretical (or political) systems is arrogance, if not silliness, beyond belief.

The only God worth believing in is a surging, dynamic, eternally challenging presence who seeks out those who would put aside the standard human occupations and achievements and partner with Him to move and shake the world, to leave it never the same after encountering His shimmering, penetrating presence.

This is the God who has no name, as Paul puts it (Acts 17:22) the Unknown God who is beyond all human naming – but who calls us by name (Isaiah 43:1-7).

The name “Jesus” in Hebrew is close to Yah (meaning  God) and Shua (meaning saves). In other words, God is what He does.

“God saves” and “I am who I am” are both attempts, feeble attempts, to frame something that can never be framed.

This is like taking snapshots of an explosion; except this explosion is “the same today, yesterday and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). God is eternal and unchanging, yet we flit by and expect to put a name on him.

Some religions have a tradition of memorizing the “900 names of God”. Even that is not enough.

Memorizing 900 of anything is a challenge – but it’s far from infinite. And memorizing quickly becomes mechanical.

A living God requires a living connections – a level of engagement far beyond our measurement or calculation.

Some religions portray their sense of infinite engagement by images of a god with eight arms, multiple faces or a variety of physical manifestations.

Even an image of God, as the Jews knew well, can mislead and distort any concept of what God must be. Our names, labels and images can only trivialize the eternal.

Our God is, by definition, infinite and ultimately unknowable – the “Name above all names” as the traditional hymn puts it.

It is this “unmoved mover,” this beginner of all beginnings who calls us into an endlessly searing, unpredictable partnership where we do, see and become far more than we could ever imagine. 900 words is nowhere near enough.

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    4 Comments

  • Jared says:

    Is God ‘unmoved’?

    • Morf says:

      Yes, this is one of the oldest concepts in philosophy and theology. The unmoved mover (ού κινούμενον κινεῖ oú kinoúmenon kineῖ) is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or “mover” of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the “unmoved mover” is not moved by any prior action. In Book 12 of his Metaphysics, Aristotle describes the unmoved mover as being perfectly beautiful, indivisible, and contemplating only the perfect contemplation: itself contemplating.

      Many post-Aristotle take this as the baseline for any deity worthy of the name.

  • Kim says:

    Not all Christians agree that God is an unmoved mover; in fact some feel that Aristotelian thought shaped Christian thinkers and theology in ways that were contrary to the tenor of Scripture and Hebrew thought… For example, see Most Moved Mover, by Clark H. Pinnock; I’m sure there are other books that make the point also (and don’t have the criticism that open theism invites) but I remembered this one precisely because of the title.

  • support says:

    i enjoy this post a lot. ill be coming laterfor future articlesthanks.

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