Today we’re paying a return visit to Jeremy Serrano who we connected with briefly here about a year ago. Jeremy is currently the Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Concord, CA. Before that he was a Youth & Family Minister for 14 years. And his name is not Joshua, as you’ll learn in a minute! Click the title below to read this and many other articles at his blog.
I just heard a very thoughtful Pastor (Gypsy Pastor) ask the question, “I wonder why we get so wrapped up in proper names?”
I think it’s a question worth asking. I have to confess, I do find myself getting wrapped up in proper names. I think proper names are important; when I use proper names, its because I want to show respect to the person who has given me their name.
I appreciate when I am in an environment where people can self-identify using the name they want to be called, the gender they wish to identify as, the pronouns they want others to use about them. I think names are important because they tell others how they want to be identified.
I know a tiny bit about multiple names. As a twin I go by two names. If you call out my name, or my twin brother’s name, in a large crowed of people, I will respond to both. Not because I’m my brother, but because I understand that other’s may be making an honest mistake. I am never bothered when people call me by my brother’s name unless they’re being rude and are trying to tell me that I am my brother.
We leave room for everyone to self-identify, yet we seem to have trouble with that when it comes to God. God has chosen to reveal God’s-self in a specific way, yet we seem to just give only a slight nod to that and say, “there must be more.” So instead of focusing on how God has chosen to reveal Gods-self, we see similarities in other religions and proclaim “Look, God is there too.” I am not denying that God is at work in other places, at the same time, we seem to neglect the place God has promised to be revealed, and that is through Jesus.
Proper names are important because they identify and differentiate the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from Ba’al, Molech, Ashtoreth, and for all you Game of Thrones fans—The Many Faced God and Lord of Light.
On the one hand, Christians praying to “Allah” should be no big deal—we’ve been doing that for thousands of years—Allah is God in Arabic. On the other hand, if by Allah we mean the God of Islam then there’s something that needs to be clarified. The God of Islam is not the same God revealed in Jesus Christ nor are the Gods’ of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism (among others).
In fact, it’s offensive to many in those other religions to claim that they worship the same God we do—Jesus by another name.
So, I think it’s important that we allow God to self-identify, as Christians believe God does in Jesus.
We as Lutherans have a ground up, earth to heaven, physical to metaphysical way of doing theology. We begin all of our understandings about God through God’s self-relation in Jesus Christ who we believe is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1).
Jesus is God on earth according to scripture. When we look at Jesus way of being in the world, we are looking at God’s way of being.
For in him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col 2:9)
He [Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being (Heb 1:3)
Likewise we know who we are to follow as God’s revelation. We follow Jesus because we believe that he is God’s self-disclosure to the world, especially in his act of sacrificially love.
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son [Jesus]… (Heb 1:1)
It is to this God. This self-revealed, specifically named God, that we pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”
When we use a name for God from other religions and call all God’s the same we are no longer identifying God in the way God chose to be self-identified. We are not taking God’s self-revelation to heart.
I think names are important and I get wrapped up in proper names because I want to show respect to the person named, including God.
With all that said, I don’t have a problem referring to God as the Great Spirit, or Creator, or Olodumare, or Waengongi. Let us be clear in what we are doing though—we are using foreign names and appropriating them to identify the God revealed to Abraham and Moses, who came to earth as Jesus, and who is the One God now and forever.