Holy is Your Name
Recently I have been thinking a lot about God’s Holiness. According to Jesus, the God to whom we pray is BOTH a loving, personal,relational Father AND an awesome, holy, mysterious deity. This can seem somewhat paradoxical, but as the great American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of intelligence is the ability to hold two contrasting ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Christianity is not an either/or kind of religion; it is a both/and. Jesus is BOTH fully human AND fully God; discipleship is a process of BOTH personal piety AND social responsibility; and God is BOTH relational AND holy.
The idea that God is holy causes many to assume that He is unknowable; but that is not entirely true. Although Isaiah 55:8-9 says "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” there are still some things we can know about this holy God.
We can begin with His name. Jesus said that when we pray we are to pray to God by hallowing his name. This implies that God has a name.
Names were synonymous with identity in the Ancient Near East. For example, the name Jesus means “savior of his people.” Jesus’ name identified who he was. In the same way, we can draw some conclusions about God based upon his name.
In Exodus 3, Moses encounters God in the burning bush and asks God his name (v. 13). God responds by telling Moses his name is YHWH.
This is a difficult Hebrew word to translate, but many English translations render it as “I AM who I AM,” or something similar. One scholar that I heard recently said that an accurate translation of this Hebrew word is “I will be whatever you need me to be, whenever you need me to be it.” I love that! That’s the God we serve.
The ancients began to add identifiers to the name YHWH throughout the Old Testament that help us to better understand the identity of this holy God. Here are a few examples:
• YHWH Shalom: God of Peace
• YHWH Jireh: God our Provider
• YHWH Rapha: God our Healer
• YHWH Nissi: God our Banner (or our victory in every situation)
• YHWH Rohi: God our Shepherd
• YHWH Shamma: God is There
Together these attributes help us to form a better picture of our holy God: a God who is mysterious and beyond our thoughts, but one who is by very definition good and loving. God is NOT the author of evil and suffering; He is NOT the author of death, pain, sorrow, despair, hatred, depression, revenge, addiction, lack, or poverty. He is NOT a God who is far away, nor is He a God that causes suffering in our lives or in the world. He is holy and righteous God who longs for us to come to Him in our times of need and in our times of rejoicing. He is a God who weeps with those who weep and suffers with those who suffer. He is a God who does not cause the bad things in life to happen, but who will work through them to bring about something good (see Romans 8:28).
The ability to hold God’s personal side and His holy side in tension is a marker of a healthy relationship with Him. We may never know why He does what He does, but it may be that we don’t need to know “why,” it may be that we simply need to know that He loves us and that He is working all things together for good.
The words of one of my favorite modern hymns sum up what I am trying to say here:
You are beautiful beyond description, too marvelous for words,
Too wonderful for comprehension, like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom?
Who can fathom the depths of Your love?
You are beautiful beyond description,
Majesty enthroned above.
And I stand, I stand in awe of You.
I stand, I stand in awe of You.
Holy God to whom all praise is due,
I stand in awe of You!