Names and the Name – 11

God has a name – 10

Against Clement, who did not believe that the ineffable God had a proper name, I contend that not only is God’s name given in embryonic form to Israel in the form of YHWH (a name defined by God’s action), the final answer to Moses’ question comes only in Jesus Christ, where God reveals his ‘name’ (to. o;noma, sing. Matt 28:19), his ‘real name’, his ‘Christian name’ (Barth) – i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Importantly, there is a correlation between the God who liberated Israel and the God who raised Jesus from the dead. He is the one God, now revealing his proper name in Jesus Christ. This is, for God, to show a vulnerability commensurate with the Incarnation itself. And in the person of Jesus Christ, through the ministry of the Spirit, we come to know not only God’s name, but God more fully. Not only has the one who has seen Jesus seen the Father, but it is only in Christ that we can address God by name in prayer.

The distinctive Christian name for God is in fact ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ and he is called Father, not so much when we are speaking about him, as when we are speaking to him. When Peter and Paul in their letters are doing their theological thinking, they speak about God, but when, as often happens, their thought takes wings and turns into praise and doxology, it is then that they address the Father (ie. 2 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3). The source of such prayer to the Father is of course Jesus himself, all of whose recorded prayers with one exception on the cross begin with ‘Father,’ and who, when asked for a prayer that would be distinctive to his disciples, said, ‘when you pray, say Father’ (Luke 11:12). However, when we worship God as Father, we must also relate both to his Son, and his Spirit. This is what Paul is saying in Galatians 4:6, ‘God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out: Abba, Father.’ We pray our prayers to the Father ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord,’ because it is through his Son made man as Jesus of Nazareth that God has shown himself to us. In the words and deeds, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we know what God’s attitude towards us is and that he is prepared to reclaim and remake us for himself. That is why Christians worship God not as a remote and distant mystery shrouded in the glory of his deity, but as the one who in his love has come to us, lived among us, died for us and triumphed over our enemies. We call Jesus Lord, because we recognize in him God’s being and God’s presence, so that our whole relationship with God is based upon and shaped by what he is and has done. As John reports him as saying, ‘No one can come to the Father except through me’ (14:16) and, putting the same thing positively, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (14:9). (The Forgotten Trinity, pp. 5-6)

God’s name brings both his identity and his uncircumscribable mystery into our very midst. Indeed, the truly mysterious God is not the nameless One, but the One who has a name and makes it known. ‘When you pray, say “Father”’. Everything said after that is supplementary.

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