No One can Find God
In part 1 of this series from Rev. Fisk’s book, Echo, I talked about the fact that there is a God, and that God is not you. You are not God. You are not even a god. You are a human creature. You are finite. There is nothing inherently special about you, but this has not prevented you from being special to Someone: God, and He has a name.
Everyone is looking for God, often in the wrong places. They think God’s name is Buddha, or Allah, Pro-Choice, Sports, Politics, or what-have-you. Most of the time, we think God is Me. None of these are God. God has already revealed Himself, and He has given us His name for us to use.
He spoke to Moses, “Yahweh, Yahweh.” What does His name mean? We don’t have an etymology of His name, but we know who He is, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7).
God’s name is Yahweh, and who He is is a God who is merciful, gracious, and patient with abundant mercy, faithfulness, and love; and who forgives sins. He is also a holy God—sin and evil perish in His presence.
Yahweh cannot be found, however. No one “finds God.” Isaiah 45:15, “Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.” As Fisk says, this “runs counter to everything that all the spiritual-not-religious in the world brandish about the airwaves these days. They all say that God is everywhere, that God is in everything, that God is in everyone, and you are a part of God. But ‘no one has ever seen God,’ said John the apostle (John 1:18). He ‘dwells in unapproachable light,’ echoed Paul (1 Timothy 6:16)” (24).
The misguided Christians who say they’re “spiritual but not religious” are those who think you can find God within yourself (enthusiasm/mysticism) and anywhere else you look in the world. (What they’re really saying is, “I don’t go to church, so I’m more spiritual than you,” which really just means they think they’re a better Christian than you.) Yet no one can approach God of their own volition. No one has ever seen God. He is unapproachable. God hides Himself, Isaiah confesses.
As Fisk emphasises, “God is not somewhere to be found” (25). He doesn’t come out of you. He doesn’t come out of some magical nature experience. He’s not out there somewhere in space. God is holy, which means “set apart.” He is totally set apart from this world that nothing and no one can go out and find Him.
But this doesn’t stop us from thinking we can get to God. Under moralism, we think that “we you do to be good enough” is how you get to God. Under mysticism, we think that “trusting in what you feel to be good enough” is how we get to God. Under rationalism, we think that “trusting in what you think to be good enough” is how we get to God (26). We think we either have to do the right thing, feel the right thing, or think the right thing in order to get to God. The spiritual-not-religious Christian-pagans fall under one or a mixture of these categories.
We might finally realise we cannot get to God, but we won’t readily admit it. Instead, Me tricks us into thinking we actually got to God. “Me will pick himself up off the ground, look at the world around Me, and proceed to claim that Me has actually made it to the other side after all” (27). Me will convince you that since there is no getting to God, this must mean you’ve been there all along. Me tells you that you are God—that you don’t need this “God of Christianity.” Hence the attitude of the spiritual-but-not-religious and the decline in church attendance.
God is hidden. No one can get to God. So, God has to reveal Himself, and that is just what He did. He is the God who involves Himself in human history; He is a historical God. We don’t go up to God, or somewhere “over there” to God. God comes down to us.
Not “Where” but “Who”
That is the problem. God is not at a place where we need to “get to.” The question “is not ‘where’ God is, but who God is. God is no ‘where’ to begin with. He doesn’t need to be. But He is still someone. God has a name, and this who God is is what makes Him truly set apart, truly holy, truly God” (28). Who God is is who He revealed Himself to be in Moses all those thousands of years ago.
Is it really that simple, though? Yes. All of Christianity is concerned about “getting to Heaven” because they think that’s where God is, rather than the promise of the bodily resurrection and the new creation that is to come because of who God is in whom He is revealed Himself to be in the name: Jesus Christ. It is that simple, but we think that saying God does not have a “where”ness belittles His glory. However:
But that’s all just a ploy. It’s not God’s glory that we’re really worried about. It’s our own. It’s the thought that God is so different from us that we will never have the chance to be like Him that threatens our pride. But the real God doesn’t care about your pride. He cares about your faith, your life, and your true joy, and these are entirely different things.
God did not make you capable of understanding Him for the same reason He did not make you capable of being Him: He made you to be you. Then He gave you a gift. Rather than wasting your time chasing the impossible made-up fairyland of “where” God is, or of understanding “what” God is, God revealed who God is, because that’s the real deal.Echo, 29.
We glorify our intellectual abilities so much that we think we can find out where God is. As theologians of glory, we think we can surpass God’s hiddenness and find out “where” He truly is and “what” He really is. Instead, God tells us who He is, and that drives our pride nuts.
What’s in a Name?
Who God is is the God of the Old Testament, whose name is Yahweh. “All the histories, the prophets, and the psalms call on this name, adore it, and consider it to be far more substantial than a mere title” (29). Any time you see, in all CAPS, “LORD” in your Bible, it is “Yahweh” in Hebrew, with a few purposeful vowel misplacements. The reasoning behind this was out of deep reverence for the 2nd Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”
Out of fear of profaning God’s name, the Jews changed the vowels around so it was pronounced differently—or left the vowels out so that what was left was the tetragrammaton (YHWH)—and the English translations print it as “LORD.” Our English translations have done this somewhat for the same reasoning, but also because any time the Scriptures were read, the Jews would say “Adonai,” which means “Lord,” wherever “YHWH” appears.
Not just God Himself was to be praised, but His very name as well. “Blessed be the name of Yahweh from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 113:2)! God’s name is also performative, our very refuge and source of comfort: “May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you” (Psalm 20:1)! His name even enacts His wrath, “Behold, the name of Yahweh comes from afar, burning with His anger, and in thick rising smoke” (Isaiah 30:27). God acts for the sake of His name, “And you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I deal with you for My name’s sake” (Ezekiel 20:44). The word “alleluia” literally means “praise Yahweh.” The “ia” in alleluia is the first half of the tetragrammaton: YH.
What’s in a name? In ancient days, parents chose names for their children with care; they chose them with meaning. Some cultures named their children based on the circumstances of their birth. Native Americans have a large variety of naming traditions, but one tradition generally common among them all is that they all draw names from nature. For example, if a woman gave birth to a daughter near a river, she might give her a name with “river” somewhere in it.
We see this in the culture of Israel all the time. Abraham and Sarah, for example, named their promised son Isaac, which means “he laughs” (Genesis 21:1-7). They gave him this name because Yahweh said Sarah would give birth to a son, and she laughed because she was old (Genesis 18:10-15). Likewise, Eli’s daughter-in-law named her son Ichabod, which means, “Where is glory?” She gave him this name because when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant (due to Israel’s idolatrous use of it), the people thought Yahweh’s glory had left them, believing also Yahweh Himself was captured (1 Samuel 4:19-22), not understanding that Yahweh is not confined to any one place (there is no “where”ness of Yahweh).
Unfortunately, we no longer live in such a culture, although at times a parent may choose a name with meaning for their child. They might pass on a family name, for example. In my own family, we have a family tradition where the first son of Daniel Gordon names his son after himself. My dad is Daniel Gordon Jr. and my older brother is Daniel Gordon III. When my brother has his first son, he will likely name him Daniel Gordon IV.
Still, some parents today may actually pick a name with real meaning for their children. Some might name their daughter Sophia because in Greek it means “wisdom” (σοφία). The wisdom of God in the original Greek of the New Testament, as well as in the Septuagint (Old Testament translated from Hebrew into Greek), is the sophia of God. I myself want to name my first daughter Shoshanah, which means “rose” or “lily” in Hebrew. This word is used a lot in the Song of Solomon, the Bible’s great “love book.” Shoshanah will be a product out of my love for my wife—the lily/rose produced out of my deep love for my wife.
Anyway, why am I spending so much time on this? Because the force behind the meaning of names has been lost in our culture and names are significant in Scripture. They have a purpose. God’s name has a purpose. Yahweh is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger,” etc. Yahweh is who God is.
More importantly, Jesus is who God is. The name of Jesus has a purpose. The name of Jesus is performative.
Jesus is the English transliteration of the Greek, Ἰησοῦς (Yesous), which is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, Yuhoshua), which means Yahweh saves.
Jesus is Yahweh saves. That is who God is and what God does: He saves. He saves in the man Jesus.
The Second Echo
The second echo of Christianity is that God has a name, and His name is Yahweh: Who God is is Jesus, and who He is is that He saves. How does He save? Jesus was perfectly obedient to God to the point of death, even death on a cross. On the cross, Jesus offered Himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God for the final atonement for all your sins, and the man Jesus died as God in the flesh. This God then rose from the dead, leaving your dead sins in the tomb, who by faith and in the promise of your Baptism promises you a resurrection just like His (cf. Romans 6).
This is who God is: merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and steadfast in love and faithfulness so that He could become a man to die for you and then rise for you, all so He could give you eternal life. He suffered death and hell so that He might give you life. This suffering and life for you is who God is, whose name is Jesus, Yahweh in the flesh.
Fisk, Jonathan, Echo: Unbroken Truth. Worth Repeating. Again. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018).