Stories from a life in progress.


One problem I have in choosing topics to write about here is worrying that ideas are too simple or too obvious. I think "oh, everyone must know that" and talk myself out of writing about it. I have to remind myself that not everyone knows the same things. I had to learn what I know, even if it seems obvious now.

Here's one for example: in the Bible, sometimes the word "lord" is written in all capital letters, and sometimes it isn't. Do you know why?

I can't remember being taught this in a church context, in a sermon or class. I think I first picked it up by reading the preface on an English bible translation, which (and I'm just guessing here) I don't think most people do. The reason becomes really clear if you study Biblical Hebrew, but again, pretty sure I'm in the minority there.

So maybe not everyone knows why "lord" is sometimes "LORD." Maybe not everybody realizes that, especially in the Old Testament, God had a proper name. Because that's what "LORD" means: it's how a lot of English translations indicate the use of God's actual name.

There's a weirdness about how English-speakers refer to God as just "God." Think about it. It's like if a person was named "Human" or "Man" or "Woman." Or if you had a friend named "Friend." Or even if you named a pet "Dog" or "Cat" or "Fish."

We get away with calling God "God" because there are centuries of monotheistic belief in our cultural roots. For a very long time, Western culture by and large has accepted the idea that there is only one God, so if someone talks about "God," you know who they mean. But there's still that little bit of depersonalization, that distance, which comes from not giving God a name.

The Bible doesn't do this. Sometimes God is simply called "God" or "lord," but he has a personal name too. Honestly, it makes more sense for God to have a personal name in the scriptures, considering the ancient Near East context in which they were written. Most religions had multiple gods, so the gods had to have personal names. You couldn't just call them "God" because how would anyone know which one you meant?

So in that place and time, it would have been truly strange for a god not to have a personal name. Even though Israel only had one national god, they still assumed that singular God would have a name. We see this laid out very clearly in Exodus 3:13-15:

Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers -- the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob -- has sent me to you.'" This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. (Exodus 3:13-15 NIV)

Moses knew that when he came to the Israelites saying "the God of your fathers has sent me," one of their most basic questions would be "Which God are we talking about? What's his name?"

What's his name?

More about that next time.