September 06, 2007

Names for God

A few weeks ago, a visitor in worship spoke to me after the service. He's a member of a UCC congregation about 40 miles away.
"I found it interesting, the names you choose to use -- and not use -- for God," he said. "I appreciate that you're not afraid to use the word 'Lord;' and retaining 'Father' in the Lord's Prayer is, I think, very appropriate. In my church, such titles are never used. They're not 'politically correct.' And while I agree that we need to be sensitive in regards to how certain names are abused and overused, I think that we've gone a little overboard in my church. Even the Christmas hymns are so altered, they're hardly recognizable."
I confessed to this visitor that I actually have a hard time using some of these names for God. "You probably noticed how, in my sermon and pastoral prayer, I didn't use any gender-specific names to refer to God. I actually wish I could feel free to do that every now and then, but the professors at the seminary I went to drilled it into me that God is neither male nor female. If we referred to God as 'Father' or even 'he' in our papers, we were marked down."
I do believe, with my seminary professors, that god is beyond all human words; yet human words are the only words we have. At theological conferences, I sometimes hear prayers addressed to the "great effervescent eternal being that is" (or something like that). Why not just refer to God as "that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought," as Anselm did?
I have difficulty recognizing in these words anything resembling the God I have come to know through my reading of scripture.
The God I know in scripture is a farmer, a shepherd, a potter, and an eagle. He is a father. She is a mother. God is a king and a ruler, but also a little baby.
Any one of these terms can be abused or overused. I'll never be one of those people who, when they pray out loud, begin every sentence by saying, "Father, I just really wanna..." But I would like a little freedom to use a variety of names for God which, when combined, paint a beautiful picture of who God is. Each is like a color of a painting, incomplete by itself, yet necessary.
What's your favorite name/image for God?
I see God.

A photo I took of the Bear River last weekend.

1 comment:

Steve F. said...

Danny, a while back I found a beautiful yet poignant discussion of inclusive language for God, and posted it over here. It's another voice in the discussion, anyway.

I'm glad I found my way back to your blog. Great stuff, brother.