Monday, January 18, 2010

understanding God: a bit more about his name

Much of the previous blog post included discussion of God's name and why exactly it is holy. I just want to list a few more observations to make, now that you've had time to think about this extremely important topic. I felt very happy today whenever I thought about how helpful that information from yesterday might have been to some people, and every person whose faith is strengthened is its own reward, to me.

So here are just some random observations:

1. Muslims and Jews are the ones who have retained the greatest continuity of understanding of the holiness of God's name to modern times. Even secularized Jews are very cautious about lightly utilizing God's name. So you can understand, then, that Christianity is the faith that has lost the most of this fact based reverence and connection for God's Holy Name.

2. Understanding the continued reverence for God's Holy Name among Muslims and Jews, you can now understand a touchy topic in each of their faiths. This is why Jews, who write in English, for example, will not letter all the alphabet of God's name, GOD. Rather, they will leave out the middle letter, inserting a dash, G-D. This way they do not feel they have written God's name, but have referenced him so that the reader knows God is being spoken of. And mind you, this is true even though they are using their everyday speech with that language's word for God, not the actual Hebrew language biblical spelling of God's name... yet they are still cautious and respectful of the power of God's name. That is to be admired and it also helps you to understand how the people God chose retain unbroken that understanding of what God told them about his Name, to keep it Holy and not to use it in vain.

3. Thus you see that Muslims have an identical sensitivity regarding the name of God, but that is more easily managed because the Arabic word for God, Allah, is the "protected name," rather than every language's translation of God or Allah. Don't get me wrong, as I'm not saying that any Muslim speaking any language would use the name of God in that language lightly, but Muslims tend to carry the Arabic name, Allah, throughout the linguistic world as their reverential name of God, as this is how God presented his name to them. Thus, this is why Muslims are so very sensitive and adverse to Christians who wish to use the word Allah for God in various languages for Christian materials. It is not simply a matter of translation because, like the Jews who are not comfortable with lettering all of English language "GOD," Muslims feel that if Christians use the word Allah they are not only co-opting their understanding of their scriptural God as defined in the Qur'an, but they have lost control over respectful use of the Holy Name of Allah. I cannot say that I blame them for that point because as you've all thought about what I wrote you realize that there has been an enormous breakdown in Christendom regarding reverential use of God's Holy Name.

4. Because Jesus Christ, as the Son of the Father, arrived with the full authority that was given to him by God, the name of Jesus Christ is thus also considered Holy, a Holy Name. Remember that one reason that God's Name is Holy is that He IS the One and Only Holy that exists, so the name is not only God's form of address to speak to him, it is also his spoken, written or thought "job description." God is God in terms of that is the name he responds to, but God is God because he is also the only God who is and always will be God, with all the perfection that contains. Thus, Jesus as Savior and Messiah has a name that is Holy not only for its form of address to Jesus, but because "Jesus Christ" is the "job description," the perfection of his being as Savior and Messiah.

It is important for you to understand this point, that it is not the letters in that string of combination J, E, S, U, S, C, H, R, I, S, T that is Holy, nor the sound that it makes when it is pronounced. Jesus could have been named Moishe and then that name would have been his Holy Name, or any other name given to him... except we know that could not have happened, because his name was given to him in prophesy, which fulfilled the scriptures. In other words, it was prophesied and Mary was told what to name Jesus.... Mary and Joseph did not just pick any name out for Jesus; they selected what they were told was his name (and of course, thus, by implication, his mission, his "job"). But I include this section to explain to you that it is not the desirability or "meaningfulness" of the letters or sounds of the name Jesus that makes it Holy, but, rather, it is the fact that it is his God authoritative name.

The angel appeared to Mary at the Annunciation, and after explaining that Mary has found grace with God (is filled with grace) and will conceive a son, said "and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will given him the throne of David his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" Luke 1:31-33.

You see? The angel tells Mary the name that Jesus already has, that God has given him that name already, and then immediately cites the spiritual lineage and mission of Jesus. Once again you see that the Holy Name is linked to the Holy "who." This is my point that you need to understand that there is no magic or presumed "spirituality" or "holiness" in the lettering and sounding of names, since Jesus was a name already in use, so it's not like God made up an uncommon or "powerful" name for Jesus. That is what I mean when I say Jesus could have had the Holy Name of Moishe or something else, if God had said that the son Mary would bear is to be named Moishe.

When the angel next appears to Joseph, Mary's spouse, in order to assure Joseph that Mary is pure and with child in purity from God's Holy Spirit, the angel tells Joseph exactly the same ordering of name and purpose, "and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). St. Matthew, when he wrote the Gospel that bears his name, provided for his readers the scriptural reference that prophesied the naming of Jesus:

Now all this came to pass that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [he means Isaiah in the scriptures of the Book of Isaiah] might be fulfilled, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son; and they shall call his name Emmanuel" which is, interpreted, "God with us" (Matthew 1:22-23).

Thus Matthew informs in his Gospel letter all those who read it that of the prophet Isaiah's foretelling of the name and the mission of Jesus. In other words, a reference to what we today call the Old Testament Book of Isaiah is provided by St. Matthew. Jewish readers of the Gospel would, of course, immediately know the Book of Isaiah quite well, but would now look back on that reference with new eyes. Non-Jews, however, have no information about any of the prophets, of Moses, or indeed of any events in faith history, including the creation of the universe by God, of Adam and Eve, the flood, the slavery in Egypt and so forth because that was all Jewish history, not part of the rest of the world's knowledge. The rest of the world was worshipping their local pagan gods, as the Gentiles did of the Greek and Roman gods. Matthew thus, with one sentence, points the informed Jewish reader to the Book of Isaiah, while he tells the uninformed pagan reader that a prophet had a long time ago recorded God's words prophesying Jesus' virgin birth, name and mission.

5. I will close these particular thoughts with one excerpt from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, that has summed up what I have explained about God's Holy Name being not only his form of address, but the first step in the work of fruitful communion with God.

2808. In the decisive moments of his economy God reveals his name, but he does so by accomplishing his work. This work, then, is realized for us and in us only if his name is hallowed by us and in us.

This is worded a little awkwardly, but oddly enough, might resonate with modern ears if one is careful to understand the word "economy" (with would be an English translation from the Latin that the Catechism is written in, in its original form). What this paragraph is explaining is that God conducts transactions of communications with human beings throughout the scripture, and that expressing his Holy Name is often a part of his particular transaction or interaction. But remember that it is not the stating of his identity and name that makes something "happen," as the Name is not to be used for presumed magical use, and the Name has no meaning separate from God, of course. Rather, when God is "at work" he is stating, obviously, his Name, since the Name is both God's form of address and also "God being God." Even if God never stated his name or who he was, obviously God is still God. But God reveals his name at crucial moments in faith history, and he is continually referred to by his name throughout scripture, because the Holy Name of God is also that taking action of God, of God being God. If you do not respect the Holy Name of God, then obviously you do not respect God's work and actions, since the Holy Name of God is the statement of his work and actions: of God being God. This is why the Catechism provides such an interesting, but a bit dense, verbiage to explain what I have been expanding for you in these past two blog postings. If one does not keep the Name of God hallowed (which means holy) in one's heart, belief and demeanor, one is from the very beginning sabotaging and denying God's work, since God's Name is also his Work.