Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Names of God


Back in 1906, Albert Schweitzer published a book entitled The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. For years theologians had been attempting to develop of portrait of Jesus based on history rather than the limited information contained the four—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—canonical gospels.

Schweitzer concluded that the “historical Jesus” presented in such studies were reflections of the authors' own historical and social contexts. In other words, if the author was a conservative German theologian then the Jesus he portrayed would have all the attributes of a conservative German Lutheran theologian; if the author was a liberal Scottish Presbyterian pastor, then the Jesus he portrayed had all the attributes of a liberal Scottish Presbyterian pastor.

I was reminded of Schweitzer’s conclusions last week as I read an email forwarded to me by another United Church of Christ pastor. She (rightly in my view) was concerned about the email’s author’s fundamentalist view of God.  In part the email read:


…to believe that God is not male is a heresy deserving of eternal damnation.


The email was, of course, written by a man. I was reminded not only of Albert Schweitzer’s finding but also of the statement that in the beginning God created human kind in God’s image and human kind has been repaying the compliment ever since.

As I see it, one of the (many) problems of describing God—or Jesus or Moses or Buddha or Mohammed, etc.—in our own image is that the very act proclaims that we are OK and everyone not like us is not OK. Or worse, that indicates that we are superior to all who are not like us in skin color, gender, education, national origin, and everything else.

That kind of exclusivity at the very least makes dialogue between folks difficult and at the worst easily leads to genocide.

In the third Chapter of the book of Exodus, Moses asks God’s name and God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And (God) said, "Say this to the people of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.'"

YHWH—I am—says that God is who God is, not who you and I or anyone else wants God to be. I like that. I like that a lot! I like it much, much better than human beings creating God in their own image.

And, I really like then inclusivity of this hymn and I hope you will take a moment or two to listen to it:


Bring Many Names

Bring many names, beautiful and good,
Celebrate, in parable and story,
Holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and Hosanna! Bring many names!

Strong mother God, working night and day,
Planning all the wonders of creation,
Setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and Hosanna, strong mother God!

Warm father God, hugging every child,
Feeling all the strains of human living,
Caring and forgiving, till we’re reconciled:
Hail and Hosanna, warm father God!

Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
Calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
Glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and Hosanna, old, aching God!

Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
Saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
Crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and Hosanna, young, growing God!

Great, living God, never fully known,
Joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
Closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and Hosanna, great, living God!



  1. Beautiful post. It is wearying to read the stories of a god that is so weak as to mimic human frailties such as jealousy and anger. We bring these types of emotions down on ourselves and have only ourselves to blame.

    The God that I perceive is beyond human emotions and frailties. God is love, but not in the petty, clinging sense that humans see it. Love is allowing us to do as we will, always with full forgiveness.

    Namaste', Nick

  2. There it is! That beautiful song you told me about! Thanks for posting it!

    I think that God is the love that I feel when I connect with you and the beauty that you are offering this fine day.

    Peace, Blessings, and Hugs to you!

  3. Nick this is a great post,it is thoughtful and thought provoking. thanks.
    The God I know is an all powerful and loving God who cares about all of his children,No matter who they are or by what Name they call him.

  4. You say so much that gets my mind looking in new directions! Thank you, Saintly Nick.

  5. Oh, Nick. You read my mind, buddy. I have so many issues with "organized" religion, and people who spout gospel as if it was the end all- be all of religion. I can't see it like that. Men wrote the books in the bible, and hence put their prejudices in there as "word of God."

    I think the Bible is a beautiful piece of liturature, and it has some wonderful insight. However, I will wait to see what He actually believes when I see him. Which, hopefully, won't be for a LONG time. :-D

  6. What a great hymn.

    So often I can only wonder 'where did he/she get that idea of God from? It's not in any Bible i know.'

  7. A lovely hymn, Nick. And a wise and thoughtful post. Your blog is a kind of church. A come-as-you-are church. The best kind.

  8. Excellent post, Nick. I totally agree with you.

    Loved the hymn too. :-)