In this blog post I will address a couple of questions I received from friends and blog followers. If you have spiritual questions you would like answered in a blog post, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Make the subject line of the e-mail "blog questions," and let me know if it's alright to use your first name. You may also post your questions to my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/authordangeorge
I'm leaving names out of this first reader questions post, as I did not ask for permission to use names.
Question 1: Why does God care who we say he is? Does he need job references or something?
Follow-up question (by another person building off of the first, as this was asked via Facebook.) If God is infinite, why does he care about names?
The simplest answer to the first question is that God doesn't "need" us to call him anything or say anything about him, except that he greatly desires us to grow. Knowing God is how we grow. So, it's not so much that God needs us to, it's that God wants us to because we need to.
However, the follow-up question, while like the first, opens a different door. Why does God care about names?
Cultures throughout the world have believed in the power of knowing a spirit's true name, and exponentially so for Divine names. Egyptians have countless stories about people learning the true name of a god, such as one where a sorceress learns the true name of Re (the sun god) and ultimately forces him to turn her into a goddess equal to him. (1) Even some Christian exorcism rites involve learning the demon's true name in order to banish it. (2)
Christianity originates from Judaism, and in Judaism the Name of God, which is represented by the tetragrammaton is particularly powerful. It is the Name meant when the commandment says to not take the Lord's name in vain! It doesn't mean the word "God" nor even the word "Lord." Those are titles. His name is represented by the tetragrammaton YHVH (commonly rendered Yahweh or Jehovah in English.) Our modern Bibles actually do us a disservice by removing the Holy Name and replacing it with Adonai (Lord.) In the original manuscripts, the Name was used for a reason. Baruch Ha'Shem YHVH. (Blessed is The Name YHVH.)
In modern Judaism, and actually for a few thousand years now, Ha'Shem, the name, was/is almost never spoken. It was used once a year by the High Priest during the Temple periods, and I don't know if it is ever spoken these days. I do know that the tefillin and mezuzah (scrolls with the Sh'mah blessing) use the actual name of God, but if we say the passage (from Deuteronomy 6:4) out loud we say "Lord" in place of YHVH. "Hear oh Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one." is how it begins as we say it, but it was written differently; more like, "Hear oh Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. (3)
Then we have the curious case of Abram/Abraham; the patriarch of Israel. He called God by many different names. (4) The two prevailing theories as to why he used different names are as follows.
Some believe that Abraham used different names because he was praying to different gods (or Gods, if you prefer.) They point out Melchizedek who was a priest of El Elyon (God Most High,) and to whom Abraham offered a tithe.(5) Mel wasn't of Abram's people, but was actually a foreign king. In addition, they point out how the offerings made in different places to different names of God are very different in nature. The proponents of this theory say that it proves that Abraham was making offerings to different gods/Gods, and that's why different names were used. They also have on their side that some of these names were also used by other cultures in the region for their gods.
The other theory, and the one more important to this question, is that Abraham was using different names for God, because each of those names evoked different Divine qualities. The offerings were different, because they were asking for different blessings. Melchizedek, they say, was a High Priest of God before most of the world turned away from God, as Abraham was only a few generations after the Flood.
There are flaws in both theories, but the point is that different names for the Divine can evoke different qualities. Similar to the example of Abraham I could digress and talk about Hinduism, and how each of their gods are actually just aspects of Brahman, but for the sake of time and clarity, I'll leave it as it is.
To summarize, and draw the two answers together, I don't think God cares which name you call God, so long as you draw closer to God. That said, it is beneficial to learn the traditional names for God, because there is power in them. The very fact that others revere those names gives them another kind of power as well. I also don't think God is limited to "Him" or "Her," but that's another blog post.
Question 2: Why do children die? What is the reason for a 17 year old to die forever in this life?
Follow-up question, from me (because it's relevant to the question and to things happening in society right now.) How can God let so many people be murdered in a church, including a pastor and another pastor's young daughter?
To a grieving mother, father, sibling, aunt or even close friend, there is no good answer to the first question. Death is one of the hardest things to face in this life, and it's harder when it's someone close to us. For some people, it's even harder when it's a young person who seemed to have their whole lives ahead of them.
The only real answer is that we are mortal, and no one is guaranteed an amount of time. Now, I don't buy that "God called them home" line which is used so often to comfort the bereaved. God didn't make the person die, except perhaps in a very few, extremely rare instances which get recorded in scripture. We tend to put blame on God for everything which happens, but God's job isn't to micromanage our lives.
That doesn't mean God isn't involved in our lives, as He very much is. He works for our good in all things. (1) However, God doesn't always protect us from the experiences of life, and sometimes things go wrong. (2) Whether it's illness, genetic, or human activity which ends another person's life, there are only rare circumstances where God intervenes to stop it. Most often, God nudges other humans to help, or tries to nudge the person out of danger, but it's up to us to listen and up to other humans to intervene. Then, of course, sometimes the death is inevitable, and God weeps with us.
This world is fallen and full of evil and hardship, and many religions, especially Christianity and some forms of Judaism, talk about the next world. In the next world, there is no pain and suffering, only the peace and joy. (3) Whether you think of it in terms of Heaven, the Elysian fields, the Summerlands, Nirvana, or any of the myriad other ideas on the afterlife, the core idea is the same.
Of course, the follow-up question is already answered in the answering of the first; that is, evil happens in this world and God doesn't always stop it. What we can be assured of is that angels were there to protect as many as possible, and bring the rest home with love. Could God have stopped the church shooting? (4) Sure, God can do anything. He probably did try to nudge several people to put a stop to it, and we don't know who tried and didn't. Ultimately, God most often works through other people.
My dad used to say, in more colorful language, "life is full of feces because feces makes good fertilizer and makes things grow." It's probably the best answer I've ever heard as to why God allows any hardship for us, but I understand that the answer isn't always great comfort.
We don't always understand why God doesn't stop all of the evil and hardship in the world, and even infants die. What we do know is that God takes any evil which happens and makes good from it, even when we can't see how any good can come from it, so long as we stay close to God.
I hope these answers helped, and I look forward to your future questions.
References below. Sorry, they don't link by clicking the numbers above.
References for Question 1
1 http://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/isisra.html (note this page spells "Re" as "Ra," which is more common but considered less accurate.)
3 http://biblehub.com/interlinear/deuteronomy/6.htm (start at verse 4, read right to left, as Hebrew is written reverse from English.)
4 http://biblehub.com/interlinear/genesis/21.htm (look at verse 33. Note, this interlinear version replaces every instance of "Lord," in Hebrew "Adonai," with "Yahweh." It is not agreed among scholars whether this is always correct, especially before the time of Moses, to whom that Name was given.)
5 http://biblehub.com/nasb/genesis/14.htm (verses 17-20)
References for Question 2
1 http://biblehub.com/nasb77/romans/8.htm (see verses 26-30, esp vs 28)
2 http://biblehub.com/nasb/ecclesiastes/3.htm (especially chapter 1 verses 1-8, but the whole book is a good read.)
3 http://biblehub.com/nasb/revelation/21.htm (verses 1-8)
4 http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/06/us/texas-church-shooting-pastors-daughter/index.html (many other relevant stories linked with this story as well.)