What is in a Name

By Paul Dumbrille

Names are important. When we meet someone for the first time, the first question we usually ask is what that person’s name is. To start a relationship, we want to find out the name of the one we are communicating with. Once we learn the name of another person, we associate that name with the circumstance(s) in which we met them; how long we’ve known them, and what our relationship is with them. Sometimes we give them nickname. In my case, my last name has invited a variety of nicknames, usually starting with “Dumb”. Sometimes we add a modifier to the name or nickname (e.g. “Crazy Canucks”). One of the first things we do when we acquire a pet, is to give it a name. Names are important. In the English-speaking world, we most often use the name “God” when referring to, and addressing, the Divine Presence (a name in itself), and we often add a modifier such as “Loving” and “Gracious” to the name of God, to express what we feel are the characteristics of the God we know. The words we use cannot adequately describe the mystery of the Divine, even though we try. In connecting with God, it is important to consider the name(s) we use in prayer. The word(s) we use in addressing God often reveal what our image of God is, what we consider God’s character is, and/or our feelings about God at particular times.

Scripture shows us that there is no one way to address or describe God. In the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, there are several words used for the Divine. Often the words used in Scripture are used to illuminate the perception of the author(s) of God’s character and actions. In the Old Testament Hebrew some of the names for God are: Elohim, “strong one”; El Shaddai, “God Almighty”; El Elyon, “The Most High God.”; El Olam, “The Everlasting God”; Yahweh (YHWH), which comes from a verb which means “to exist, be”; and Adonai, “Master” or “Owner.” In New Testament Greek, some of the names for the Divine are: Theos, translated as “God”; Kurios, translated as “Lord”; and Despotes, translated as “Master”. God is referred to as Father throughout the Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Additionally, there are many instances in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures where no name of God is employed, but where simply the term “name” in reference to God is used as the point of focus. In addition to Father, some other names that we use in addressing or describing God are: Abba; Mother; Jehovah; Emmanuel (God with us); Creator; Healer; Weaver; Counsellor; Potter. Sacred; Gitche Manitou; Divine Presence; He; and She. Some of the modifiers we use are: Gracious; Loving; Merciful; Almighty; Caring; Ever Present; and Wonderful. Some of the words to describe or address Jesus in Scripture are: Christ; Lord; Master; The Word (logos); Son of God; Son of Man; Son of David; Lamb of God; New/Second Adam; Light of the World; King of the Jews; and Rabboni & Rabbi.

I think we need to be free to use the name of God that most closely describes the image of God we have at the time. For example, if, for any reason, you do not have a positive image of your father, then you might want to avoid using Father in prayer. On the other hand, if you have a positive image of God as a Presence guiding and loving you, the name Counsellor might be the way you address God in prayer. We do no have to use the same name or modifier all the time. I know my relationship with the Divine and my image of God have changed over the years. Consequently, I use different words when I address God in prayer now than I did a few years ago.

I encourage everyone to find the image(s) that best reflects his/her relationship with the Divine, and to the use words and modifiers in prayer that bring them closest to God.

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