Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Knowing God by Name

How can an infinite being make Himself known to His finite creatures? How can finite man even begin to have a relationship with a being unless he has an idea of the type of person he is? God has chosen to reveal His characteristics in His names. In American society we have a hard time relating to the importance of a name. When a new acquaintance calls me “Jim”, he still has no idea about my personality traits. In ancient days however, personal names reflected the characteristics of the bearer. When Laban first dealt with Jacob, he could assess his character not only based on familial knowledge, but also on the basis of his name. Likewise, we can begin to peek into the character of God by looking at His names. In the Bible, God used many names to convey what He is like to man. The many names He has revealed are characterized three ways – they are personal, anthropic, and analogical.

God’s names are personal in that they give insight into His very being. They don’t just describe things about Him, they point out intimate aspects that are interwoven into the very warp and woof of who He is. For example when Moses asked God to tell him who he should tell the Egyptians was sending him, God identified Himself as YHWH – I AM. At first glance, that name sounds rather ambiguous. It is simple – four Hebrew letters translated into three English letters. Despite its simplicity, it is one of the most profound statements of God’s existence. By introducing Himself in this way, He is giving personal insight into his eternality. When the linear mind flows along the currents of time, at each point along the way, God is. We can say that Adam was created the first man, Abraham was God’s friend, Mary was impregnated as a virgin, Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo, Columbus was the discoverer of the New World, Washington was the first president, and Reagan was the leader who ended the Cold War. I can say that I am writing this essay, but when you read it, that present tense will have to be changed to the past – I was the one who wrote this essay. God, by revealing Himself with the name I AM, showed His eternality. At every point in history – even before and after the existence of time – God currently is. This was a tremendous personal revelation to Moses and subsequently to those who read the Pentateuch. Not only are God’s names personal, they are anthropic.

God’s names are anthropic in that they are given in categories of human thought. In other words, they are compatible with our way of thinking. God has said in His Word that His thoughts are not our thoughts. That would make it impossible for Him to have a relationship with us if He hadn’t revealed Himself in propositional terms our finite thought patterns can comprehend. God would be as incomprehensible as the chaotic gods of the pagans had He chosen not to reveal Himself in “bite-sized pieces”. For example, when God revealed Himself to Abraham as Jehovah-Jireh, He was not limiting Himself to the characteristic of provider. In an anthropic sense, He revealed one of His characteristics is that He provides for the needs of His people. The way that He does this is, as Paul said, “exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think.” God makes Himself known in categories that can be understood by our finite minds. However, that does not limit Him to finitude. The description is limited, not the trait. Finally, God’s names are analogical.

The analogical nature of God’s names fit them midway between being univocal and equivocal. Were God’s names equivocal, they would be completely different from the regular sense of the word. To use the previous example of Jehovah-Jirah, the sense that God is our provider would have no meaning because, when referring to God, the term “provider” has no similarity to the human meaning of the word. Conversely, if God’s names were univocal in nature, they would be a specific word that could only be used in one way. The recent open theism controversy involves self-proclaimed evangelicals who deny the omniscience of God. Millard Erickson points out in his book What Does God Know and When Does He Know It, open theists argue their point by misstating some of God’s characteristics as univocal. He quotes Pinnock and others as attempting to make the case that God’s statement of grief and repentance recorded in Genesis 6:6 is on the same plane as man’s experiences of grief and repentance. In other words, when a man expresses sorrow, it is usually over something he had no control over or could have avoided had he known the consequences ahead of time. Because this is the nature of sorrow and repentance in man, the open theists say, it must be the same in God. When God’s names are properly viewed as analogical, this heresy is avoided.


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