Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Lord's Prayer, Part 2: The Holy Name

Exodus 3:13-15
Exodus 20:1-7
Luke 11:1-8

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say, The Lord … has sent me to you’.  This is My Name forever, and this My title for all generations.”  Exodus 3:15

Language is everything.  Lack of effective communication has led to more conspiracy theories and misunderstandings than anything else I can think of.  The secret nature of the Masons and the Scientologists, for instance, means we are left to guess exactly what it is they actually do or believe, and most of what we read about these organizations is not favorable.  I’m not comparing Masons to Scientologists, by the way!  That is not the point.

It seems if we do not know what we think we need to know, we’ll often just make something up based on what few tidbits of information we may have without going to any real trouble.  Before we can hang our hats, a full – and very often untrue – story has evolved.  Because it satisfies our curiosity, makes any sort of sense, or belittles and slanders someone we don’t like or something we don’t understand, we leave it standing.  The matter is settled.

But not really.  It is what we do not know that more often causes problems – especially in the Church and in the Holy Scriptures – regarding the Holy Name.  Ancient Hebrew did not have vowels, so the actual pronunciation of The Lord’s personal Name – if there is one - is not known.  The Name was not used maybe because other designations such as “the God of our fathers”, “the God of all creation”, or “the God of our redemption” were – and still should be – used to understand our very being as contingent upon The Lord’s very being, the essence of His Nature, the fullness of Himself.  That is, if there is no Creator God, there is no creation. If there is no God of our redemption, there is no redemption.  Everything about us stems from Him, and none of it has to do with a simple “name”.

I am often left wondering what the original languages reference to in place of simply “God”, if there is some language commonality by which translators and interpreters have “settled” for the easiest and most convenient term rather than to acknowledge, understand, and properly convey this immutable fact: we do not know The Lord’s name as we know “Billy’s” or “Sally’s” name – AND – it may even be better for us not to know. 

We also live in a time in which “Father” and “Lord” and “King” have been largely dismissed by too many only because of the uniquely masculine reference.  So to be politically correct, to strive for full inclusion, and in deference to those who perhaps had an unhappy childhood at the hands of a brutal and sadistic father, we are encouraged (if not outright required, as at some seminaries) to simply go “God”.  After all, it is a very general term by which everyone knows and understands whom we are talking about – AND - without “offending” anyone.  Right?

Not so fast.

I submit if “God” has become so “general” a term we’ve simply settled for, then something has gone wrong and we have rendered a “name” (which actually is not a name) - referring to the Holy One - as common as dirt.  It is little wonder that even in the Church, The Name does not evoke reverence.  “God” has become a word as common and as misunderstood (and perhaps as misapplied) as “grace” (which has come to mean “excused”) or “love” (which is better understood as a “good feeling” about something or someone as long as they suit us). 

The “name” we have designated for the Creator has no impact and virtually no real meaning.  It should therefore be no surprise to us that those who are outside of the Church have no more respect or reverence for the Holy Name than we of the Church who consider ourselves “children” of the Most High – and yet are afraid or ashamed to call Him “Father”.

In Hebrew and throughout much of the Tanakh (First Testament), the common designation for The Name are the Hebrew letters “YHVH” which the English language had rendered “YHWH” and reduced to “Yahweh” (or Jehovah).  This designation comes from Exodus 3 in which The Lord makes Himself known to Moses.  We read “I Am Who I Am”. 

In Judaism, then, “YHVH” is rendered as “Hashem” (The Name which is ineffable {too magnificent for human comprehension} and unutterable {not only without a proper known pronunciation – perhaps for good reason! - but also not to be spoken carelessly or casually}).  That is, the Holy Name should be treated with the utmost respect – even there is “just a name”. 

Moses was left with, “The Lord … has sent you; this is My Name forever, and My title for all generations” (Exodus 3:15).  The Lord is “the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob” … that is, THE God of the Covenant, The Big Boss, His “title”, but we are not told His name is simply “God”.

We must also not overlook the essence of the first few Commandments which deal exclusively with Israel’s and the Church’s relationship to The Lord, not least of which is the prohibition against making “wrongful use of the Name of The Lord your God” (Exodus 20:7a).  And although it is not generally thought to be so, it is interesting that the language in the rest of the passage comes as close to identifying the “unpardonable sin” as anything else: “The Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses His Name” (Exodus 20:7b).  The sin of “wrongful use” of The Holy Name is not strictly the vulgar word we know too well, or “OMG”.  Using The Holy Name to justify our own personal actions and self-serving choices that clearly violate biblical precepts are examples of “wrongful use”.  The Bible defines such as “blasphemy”.

So Jesus teaches us to first address the Holy Father not by any designated “name” (as if The Lord will not know we are talking to Him) but by a title which offers to us the assurance of His relationship to us (“our Father”).  We acknowledge His “place above all places” (Heaven), and then we are reminded of the reverence due The Holy Name by its “hallowed” nature; holy, sacred, sanctified, honored, divine, ineffable – in other words, above and beyond human comprehension – but, in a word, “wonderful” ... not common at all. 

Jesus teaches us, encourages us, invites us to come to “our Father” with and in this Prayer, this remarkable Gift our Savior has entrusted to the Church – not strictly to be memorized and merely recited as part of the worship liturgy, but to be “internalized” so as to become as much a part of our being as disciples of Christ as our lungs and our hearts – that which is intended and designed to keep us alive!

Old habits die hard, of course, and this old habit of simply “God” should be seriously reconsidered.  I am not going to suggest to you that saying “God” in our prayers is sinful or disrespectful; rather I am going to submit to you that any form by which we choose to refer to or address The Almighty must be with all due respect and reverence.  For I will also submit that it is our very lack of reverence and respect that is at the core of the contemporary Church’s problems – not lack of advertising nor lack of proper “family values”.

Let us through our prayers and worship and devotions rediscover the wonder of The Holy Name, for the essence of Our Father cannot – must not - be contained in a single word.  And for this we may be eternally thankful.  Amen.

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