Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Names for God
As Fr. John Courtney Murray points out in The Problem of God, one of the recurring questions that haunts mankind is, "What do we name God?" The story I read from Genesis about Jacob wrestling with the angel in the desert (Gen. 32:23-32) is relevant here.

I'm also reminded of my childhood. My grandmother and grandfather on my mother's side were Ruth and Bernard. They lived in a white, two-storey house on a five-acre plot just north of the Capitol building in Oklahoma City (aka Redneck City). We always called them Munder and Burnder. These names of affection came from the typical three-year-old blunder of my older sister. When she was little she used to hear my grandmother call from the kitchen for her husband in the barn. She'd say "Bern-ERD!" So Helen would call him "BurnDER!" Then when Burnder would call "Mo-THER!" Helen thought he was saying "Mun-DER." as a kind of similar word to Burnder. Thus, terms of affection are born!

This is like our theological and religious language for God. It is our attempt to articulate what we hear God saying of himself. We get it kind of right. So the words we use somehow reflect the reality of who God is, of his real name, but because of our limited understanding, it is not the full and proper name. But then, the words we do use reflect not only our feeble attempts to understand, but our affection for God and in a sense His affection for us. It helps establish an intimate relationship with God as we use our "special" language for the One we love, the best language we can come up with.

This is like Jesus using the word "Abba" or "daddy" when referring to His Father.

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