Is God a name, like Allah or Jesus?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Monday 14, August 2017 | Category:   Doctrines & Beliefs
God the Father
Monotheism clearly doesn’t mean God responds to one name only.

Most Christians tend to use God as the proper name of our Deity. As monotheists (believers in one Divine Being), we profess that all other gods are false. This is another way of saying our God IS God, and there is no other. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah was very keen on this point, in an era when his fellow countrymen were perfectly content to worship any divinity that might help them get ahead.

The claim that the Holy One of Judeo-Christian tradition is a singular Divinity doesn’t necessarily imply that God the Father doesn’t answer to other names or respond to worshippers of other religions who make their prayers in other forms. In Scripture, the writers use many names for the Holy One of Israel: El, Elohim, El-Shaddai, and especially the name too sacred to say out loud—YHWH—usually replaced with Adonai, which is the respectful title “Lord”. In most Bibles, when you see the all-caps rendition of LORD, you know the name intended is the four unspeakable letters known as the Tetragrammaton. Monotheism clearly doesn’t mean God responds to one name only. It simply rejects the notion that there are multitudes of gods out there who must be appealed to separately or even selectively. God is ONE.

Having said that, please note that the name of God we invoke does matter greatly, since traditions vary as to the nature of the Holy One to whom we are appealing. The God of Judeo-Christian tradition is a self-revealing God who seeks an intimate relationship with us. By means of our sacred history, we understand our God to be moral and just, not simply powerful and capricious. The Bible reveals God to be Lord of creation and history, stronger than empires but also respectful of human freedom. Finally, in the person of Jesus, God’s self-revelation takes a dramatic turn. God makes common cause with us by sharing our life, with its limitations and suffering, including death. Through this daring and loving incarnation, the God we profess changes the rules of time and mortality.

All of this sidesteps the question: if God isn’t really a name, what is it? Linguistically, God is a noun that describes what theologian Terrence Tilley calls “the irreducible center of meaning, power, and value.” This definition covers all the kinds of gods we may chase after: money, control, celebrity, love. We need to be clear, not only which name we choose for God, but which God we choose for ourselves.

Scripture -

Exodus 3:13-14; 6:2-8; 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:6-7; 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10-13; 44:6-8; 48:12-13; John 1:1-18; Acts 17:22-31; 1 Corinthians 3:21-  22; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Books -

Chasing Mystery, by Carey Walsh (Liturgical Press)

What Is the Point of Being a Christian? – Timothy Radcliffe (Burns & Oates)

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