The Name(s) of God

This week USA Today ran a front page article entitled, “How America Sees God.” The article was based upon a new book on the topic. According to the book, research shows that Americans view God in one of four ways. He is an authoritative God, a benevolent God, a distant God or a critical God. And the unifying thread in all this?

Americans of every stripe overwhelmingly believe that all good people go to heaven, that many faiths contain truth, and that religious diversity is good for the nation. USA Today

Whatever America used to be, articles like this and books on this topic make it very clear that America is not a “Christian nation” (whatever that is). When it comes to religious affiliation and thought, America and Americans are deeply confused.

As we noted last week, this confusion stems from a rejection of revelation from God himself (in his Word and Son) and can only be overcome with an acceptance of that revelation as the basis for knowing about God. One of the ways God reveals himself to us is by the names he calls himself. Names are intensely personal, even for us to whom names have almost become meaningless. Bavinck notes, “It always feels more or less unpleasant when others misspell or garble our name: it stands for our honor, our worth, our person, our individuality.” So in the many names of God we learn something about God.

It is crucial to note that God names himself. We do not name God. Those in authority name things. Adam named Eve and the animals. Parents name their kids, not waiting till their teenage years to grow up and decide for themselves. And children name their pets and their dolls. God names himself because there is no other who stands above him and there is no other who knows him. He alone knows himself (Rom. 11:33).

Finally, when God names himself those names are analogies of what God is like. While true and trustworthy, our knowledge of God is always analogical, which is to say, “Our knowledge of God…is shaped by analogy to what can be discerned of God in his creatures…” Only God has a perfect knowledge of himself. Because of this every revelation of God is rightly referred to as an anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphic language is the ascription of human attributes or, in this case, things known to humans, to God. It is to accommodate our weakness and frail capacity.

Because God is speaking to humans he uses human language to reveal himself and “for the same reason he manifests himself in human forms” (Bavinck). 

“From this it follows that Scripture does not just contain a few scattered anthropomorphisms but is anthropomorphic through and through. From the first page to the last it witnesses to God’s coming to, and searching for, humanity.”

This gracious revelation and condescension on God’s part must always be in our minds when we take the name(s) of God upon our lips, ever praying, “Hallowed by thy name.”

Any thoughts?