Why are the names for God so important?
By Shawn Reeves
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity/June 7
Exodus 34:4b-6,8-9; (Psalm) Daniel 3:52,53,54,55; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” These words from today’s second reading are announced at the beginning of every Mass (with a slight translational difference). More than merely poetic words, they are an intentionally Trinitarian formula. And St. Paul concludes this letter with them, because they are words which embody the central convictions of the Christian faith. They constitute a declaration of belief.
My name is a human descriptor, a means of reference among a myriad of like beings. Christ’s name signifies his divine nature.
However, while Jesus commands “believe in me” nine times in John’s Gospel, in today’s Gospel reading he demands belief in his name. Why? Why is conviction of his name so important?
My name is somewhat arbitrary. I could have been named Joe or Bob or Phillip or any other name, and my life would have proceeded with little difference (except, perhaps, had I been named Pachomius). But Christ’s name is different. My name is a human descriptor, a means of reference among a myriad of like beings. Christ’s name signifies his divine nature.
In our first reading, God, Himself, declares his name to Moses — LORD. Yahweh in the Hebrew, God designates a name for Himself that can be translated either “He who IS/I AM That I AM” or “He who brings into existence whatever exists.” It was such a sacred pronouncement of God’s supreme dignity, that the ancient Hebrews began replacing it with the generic “Adonai” (Lord or Master) when reciting the Scriptures liturgically.
Whether Yahweh or Adonai or the lesser used Elohim (“the strong/powerful ones”), the various names of God had one thing in common. They did not merely address Him in conversation but served to distinguish Him from everything else that exists. Thus, even in the language of personal devotion in ancient Judaism, the identity and presence of God could be called upon simply by petitioning “the Name” (hashem in Hebrew).
This is the context is which the original audience of today’s Gospel would have heard Jesus’ words. Belief in “the name” of the only Son of God was tantamount to belief in the divinity of that Son and his co-eternity with the Father. The name of the only Son of God was a domain of worship.
Moreover, this name is a singularly unique illustration of the interior life of God. If we believe in “the name of the only Son of God,” we inherently believe that the nature of God is not isolation but communion and self-offering. If, within the life of God, the divine Father bestows a name on His divine Son, that name constitutes evidence that God’s own being is inherently relational.
THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
In utilizing these interpersonal identifiers (“Father” and “only Son”), Jesus displays not only his own divine identity but an essential characteristic of the Divine Nature of God — that God exists eternally as a relational being. The only Son’s name designates the very foundation for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Our first reading, psalm, and Gospel all particularly exult the name of God, because His name denotes the qualities of His being. And what qualities do we find embedded into the meaning of His name? “The LORD, a merciful and gracious God,” God declares of Himself in our first reading. “Slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,” He continues. Belief in the name of God is belief in these attributes of God.
And worship of Him includes our emulation of His ways. St. Paul goes so far as to suggest that to rest in “the God of love and peace” involves our imitation of Him. “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace,” he instructs. Such is one “rich in kindness and fidelity.” Such is one “merciful and gracious.” Such are the people imbued with “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.