As you know this May, Caroline and Jeremy will have another child. The sonogram predicts the baby is a girl, so the next question they are usually asked is, “What is her name going to be.” Their response is usually words to the effect, “We won’t know for sure until we see her, but we have several names we are thinking about.” As the grandfather I am just excited, but equally curious what this grandchild will call me. You see naming can go in reverse as well. Small children often name their parents and grandparents.
I read recently that “naming was important in biblical times.” I think it is still a special event in these times. I love that part of the Baptism when the priest turns to the parents and godparents, and directs, “name this child.” I recently read Russo’s Bridge of Sighs where the central figure of the book was named after his father, Lou and with his middle initial was “C.” his teacher mistakenly called him Lou C (Lucy), on his first day of school, and this event stuck throughout his life. In the Bible we have numerous incidences of God or his angels directing that a child be called a certain name or an adult having his name changed — Abraham (from Abram), Israel ( from Jacob), Paul (from Saul), and of course Mary was told by angels to call her son Jesus. I remember those awkward childhood days of wanting a different name, I don’t know if you had that experience, but I know many people who say they did at one time or another. I, for one, think that a name can affect the character and personality of a person.
All this brings me to the passage in the Bible where Moses asks God, “If I go the Israelites, and I tell them the God of their forefathers sent me to them, and they ask me his name, what shall I say?” God answered, “I am; that is who, I am.” This always troubled me, what was God getting at here? In light of an upcoming naming, and my anniversary of my own naming, I gave it some thought. As I mentioned in biblical times one’s name was meant to say something about the person. (Israel – he who wrestles with God.) So was Moses, when he asked what is your name, asking “What are you like? What type of God are you?” Commentators seem to differ here. In responding “I am,” was God saying he is a vibrant being, or was God saying I cause things to happen, or was he rebuking Moses and saying “I am who I am, you cannot pigeon hole me.” I tend to think the latter is the case because he later tells Moses what to call him, “You must tell the Israelites this, that it is Yahweh, the God of their forefathers….” So he is later telling Moses all they need to know is that I am the God of your forefathers, don’t derive anything from my name, it is in my dealings with your ancestors that you know my character.
Perhaps, God speaks to us the same way as he speaks to Moses. We pray and inquire of God how will I deal with this issue or that. We say in prayer, “if I speak out, people will ask by whose authority do I speak.” We give God all kinds of reasons why we are not qualified or capable of doing God’s wishes. And God simply tells us he is the God of Jesus, of our grandparents, and parents, that is sending us out. And he comforts us, as he assured Moses, by saying “I am with you. I am with you.”
Your Friend, Webb