Names for God: Part 3 of a Series

The dozens of names used for God in the bible include beautiful and imaginative ones, evidence of long history and deep relationship with the Holy One beyond names. Each name for God stretches to articulate a particular experience of the sacred: beautiful, bright hope in Morning Star, the source and end of all in Alpha and Omega, the object of longing in Desire of All Nations, ever-renewing strength and refreshment in a Fountain, the steady certainty of a Rock, just to name a few. It’s interesting to scan such lists as the biblical names for God here, and names for the different aspects of the trinity here.

Jesus names his relationship with the source of life, strength, and guidance by referring to the divine as Father, suggesting a closer and more intimate relationship than the traditional Lord. He is also naming a divine relationship when he refers to himself as the vine and his followers as the branches.

The names we use are necessarily metaphorical—suggestions for ways of thinking of God based on something we’ve experienced of God and of the world. Maybe it is tender love, or transforming power; it could be a light in the dark, or a stone rolled away; it might be a new way of seeing our circumstances, or a sense of connection to another person. We say God is love, strength, vision, light, renewal, unity—all describe God, none is the final word.

Any name or metaphor reflects a single flash of perspective—one bit of colored light in the kaleidoscope of names, one of myriad possibilities for describing an experience or relationship with God. None is complete, so any name used exclusively becomes false. If God is always Almighty, then we may miss the still, small voice. If God is always He, then our sense of God is not only limited to masculine traits and roles, but to human ones. If the divine is just another being, much like another person only magnified, we may not be prepared to encounter other expressions of the holy.

Learning to use a variety of names for God has enriched my faith. My spiritual life grew deeper when I began to think of God in new ways, with new names. Allowing my understanding of God to grow has helped me to grow.

May the faithful ever continue to conceive new names for the divine, and may those names be accepted into living, growing communities of faith.

Are there names for God that you resist? What names are most resonant for you?

You might also be interested in:

Part 1: Post Cards from the Divine

Part 2: Naming the Ineffable