God has a lot of names.
I’m sure that ‘God’ is the name that we use to refer to Him the most, but He does go by other names. This isn’t an example of pantheism, the belief in numerous gods. Rather God has multiple names, each one describing something unique about Him.
This is not a trait unique to the God of the Bible. A quick look at the Koran, for example, shows that Allah has different names as well.
Now, I am not interested in the names of Allah, nor am I interested in a conversation about the names of the biblical God. Another place and time perhaps.
I am more interested in why we give God different names, and if we can still be doing that today.
One of the more interesting stories I have found in Genesis doesn’t involve the patriarchs.Abraham is involved in this account to a degree, but Isaac and Jacob are nowhere to be found. Instead, this is the story of Hagar.
Abraham, at the time called Abram, had no children. His wife, Sarah, or Sarai at this point, was barren. So she hatched a plan to have offspring. It would be done through her maidservant, Hagar. Abraham agreed to this idea, knew Hagar, and she conceived a child. Upon hearing of this, Sarah was furious. She despised her maidservant and demanded that Abraham do something with her. Abraham washed his hands of the matter, telling Sarah that Hagar was her maidservant, her responsibility. With that, Sarah started to abuse a pregnant Hagar. Hagar decided it was better to flee the camp, into the desert then to stay there.
While Hagar is in the desert, an Angel of the LORD came to her to save her. The Angel blessed her and her baby, saying that her descendants would be too numerous to count. The Angel encouraged her by letting her know that God had heard of her misery.
“Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” – Genesis 16.13 NKJV
This passage is great for a few reasons, but look at what she does. “Then she called the name of the Lord.” The NIV translation says, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her…”
She gave God a name, The God Who Sees Me.
Was that okay? Was she allowed to do that?
The other day I was listening to a minister speak and he mentioned a Hebrew phrase, “Ha’al Shemaays eyes qum” which roughly translates to “The God Who Wastes Nothing.” That isn’t a name of God that is found in Scripture, but strangely rings true of the God of the Bible. But is it okay to call Him that? Can I use that name from the pulpit when I preach? What about when I’m praying?
I came across a piece of Christian poetry written by Francis Thompson. He was a 19th century writer and in his famous poetry describes the dogged pursuit of God after his soul.
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.”
But it is all for naught, for God finds Francis Thompson. The chased gives way to the chaser. The Hound of Heaven found what He sought after.
I don’t know if I would ever refer to God as a hound, even if it was from Heaven, but you cannot disagree with the truth of Thompson’s poetry. This is what God is like, and that seems to be the criteria for giving Him a new name.
The idea of giving God names, new names, things that He wasn’t called before seems to be a part of the biblical and Christian tradition. But at the thought of it, my spirit feels funny. Like I just said, I’m not sure if I could call God the Hound of Heaven, chasing down those that He loves. It is as if it isn’t something I should do, or maybe I’m simply out of practice.
I am curious as to what you think.
Should Christians be giving God new names like Hagar and Francis Thompson did? Have you given God a new name, and if so, what was it? I’d love to hear about it.