I used to think that God only had one name. God. Sure, there's the whole Holy Spirit and Jesus the Christ thing, but they are included in the Trinity package. God is God, right? Well, over the course of my life, I've discovered -- to my great delight -- that God has many names!
I have been reflecting on God's name over the past few days following a question we received from a reader about why God has so many names. Jan from Michigan writes:
"God has a lot of names in Scripture, such as Lord, Most High, Creator, Adonai. I have a hard time picturing God with all these names. I want to grow closer to God, but all the names make it confusing as to who God really is. I would appreciate your thoughts."
While there are many theological and historical ways of responding to this question, here's a personal, spiritual response. I think God has a lot of names because God wants to be found by us! God wants to be über accessible to us and is willing to take on any nickname or title that helps us better connect with God.
In the Hebrew tradition, from whence Christianity inherits its understanding of and many names for God, names are very sacred. A name is not just a label but tells us something about the person herself or himself. We recognize this importance too in the Catholic Church:
"A name expresses a person's essence and identity and the meaning of this person's life. God has a name; God is not an anonymous force. To disclose one's name is to make oneself known to others; in a way it is to hand oneself over by becoming accessible, capable of being known more intimately and addressed personally." (Catechism of the Catholic Church #203. Read more from the Catechism on the Name of God)
Over the years, I've found that I think of God and pray with God using a variety of names. Some come from Scripture and our faith tradition, and others come from, well, out of nowhere sometimes! Some make no sense to anyone other than God and me.
While it can be confusing to keep all of God's names straight, the good news is, you don't have to! Hang on to the name(s) for God that are meaningful for you, that help you pray with God, and that help you connect with your faith community. As you encounter different names for God, ask God to help you see what it says about who God is. If it's not helpful or meaningful, you don't have to use it when thinking about or addressing God!
The bottom line is that all these names of God point to one God. And this God will respond to you with loving kindness no matter what name you use!