What’s in a name? You can learn a great deal about someone based on their name. This is nowhere more true than when it comes to the names of God.
The Importance of Names
In western culture, names are a way to conveniently refer to a specific person. This does not mean that names are always arbitrary — often great thought goes into choosing a name that feels right. But in most of our day to day experiences, names are simply a way to refer to someone lest we become stuck in endless conversations trying to identify “Who’s on first?” How difficult and confusing the world would be without names!
However, in the biblical world, names go deeper than simply what something is called, but also communicate something of the nature of the thing or person. In the Bible, names are a window into the essence of who someone is.
This is tremendously important as we consider the names of God. When it comes to God, we don’t want just to know what to call this divine being we worship; we want to know who He is, what He is like, and why He is worthy of worship. The names of God reveal God to us.
Unless God reveals Himself to us, how will we properly identify who “God” is? Left to ourselves, “God” is merely whoever we conceive Him to be. But as Christians, we believe in so much more. In the book 3 2 1: The Story of God, author Glen Scrivener puts it this way:
“Confessing ‘belief in some kind of god’ is about as appealing as marrying ‘some kind of carbon-based life form’. Who cares about ‘spouses in general’; it’s my Emma who has won my heart. In the same way, who cares about ‘God’? ‘Which god?’ is always the question.”
We don’t just want to believe in some idea of God. We want to believe in the true, personal God, and we want to know that person’s name.
The Names of God and Human Experience
The names of God revealed to us in Scripture — or more precisely, the characteristics of God that the names reveal to us — have enormous implications for our everyday experience. Though it is now largely a relic of the past, many family names demonstrate something of who our ancestors were — Go to Mr. Potter for a new set of dishes, see Mr. Carpenter about a new coffee table, and pick up some flour from Mrs. Miller—and so on.
In a similar way, if we know who God is, we know what we can depend on Him for. We know how to relate to Him. We know how He is able to meet our needs. When we are anxious, we need God to comfort us, and when we are afraid, we need to know that God will protect us. The good news is that God has revealed Himself in ways that speak to the unique needs of our experience, and He has done this so that we may know what sort of relationship we can have and what we can expect from Him. What a comfort and joy it is to know to Whom we belong, why He is worthy of our worship, and what we can expect from Him!
Advent is a fitting season to remember and reflect upon these truths. As the image of God, Jesus is the perfect embodiment of every one of God’s names. More than anywhere else, when we look to Jesus, we see and understand exactly who this God is and what He is like. Just as importantly, as we look to Jesus, we see better than ever how God meets us in our time of need, what sort of relationship we can have with Him, and why Jesus is worthy of our worship. In Jesus, God became man, and the divine nature meets human experience.
As we look back to how God has revealed himself in Jesus, we remember who God is and who He is for us. We are reminded that Jesus is exactly who we need in our experience and why He is worthy of our worship. As we learn together about the names of God, may we grow together in our understanding of who our God is, and see and worship Him foremost as He is revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus.