What We Believe (2): God’s Wonderful Name

This is the second in a series of question-and-answer articles on What We Believe by Rev. Elco H. Oostendorp. The dire need for a clear knowledge of God may be as great today as when God once said: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge . . . ” (Hosea 4:6). Rev. Oostendorp (retired) is a Christian Reformed minister now living in Hudsonville, Michigan.

What does our Confession say about the nature of God?

Article I states: “We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which (whom) we call God; and that He is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.”

How does the Bible reveal God in this way?

In His Word God reveals Himself especially in His name or names. The Bible often speaks of the name of God in such a way as to identify it with God Himself. Jesus teaches us to pray. “Hallowed be thy name,” and in His high-priestly prayer (John 17) He says, “I manifested thy name unto the men whom thou gavest me alit of the world.” The third commandment forbids taking the name of God in vain. In Numbers 6:27 we read that the Lord says in reference to the so-called Aaronic blessing found in verses 24 to 26. “So shall they put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” This is also very beautifully illustrated in the marvellous revelation the Lord gave to Moses as recorded in Exodus 33 and 34 which is summarized in 33:19, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee.” So we may say that the name of God is His self-revelation, or God as He has made Himself known to us in His word and work.

What are some of the most important proper names of God used in the Bible?

In the Old Testament there are four main names of God in the Hebrew language. The word translated God is El or more commonly Elohim. This name is also used of heathen gods. It is instructive to note that Elohim is plural, but is used with singular verbs and the Bible always emphasizes that there is only one true God. According to Exodus 6:3 God appeared to Abraham as God Almighty. Hebrew El Shaddai, but not by His name Jehovah. Jehovah is translated LORD in the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version. LORD with capital letters must be distinguished from Lord, which is the rendering of Adonai. The word Jehovah is derived by combining the consonants JHWH with the vowels of Adonai. Through the Greek translation this became Kurios, or Lord. both in the Greek Old Testament and in the New Testament. Jehovah is especially God‘s covenant name and is explained in Exodus 3:14 as meaning I Am That I am.” In the New Testament Greek Elohim becomes Theos, the name that was also used by the Greeks for their gods (cf. Acts 17:23). The distinctive New Testament name for God is Father. Although used in the Old Testament occasionally, it is especial1y by the coming of Jesus as God’s Son, that His people can call God Father. In this name God’s love is revealed (I John 3:1) and it is by this name that Jesus taught us to address God in our prayers (Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2).

What do we mean by the attributes of God?

The “attributes of God are the perfections of His being revealed to us” (M. J. Bosma, Exposition of Reformed Doctrine, p. 20). Many of the descriptive names of God—in distinction from the proper names mentioned above—tell us about these perfections of God, The Bible speaks of the eternal God (Deut. 33:27), the living God (Heb. 10:31). the Holy One (Isaiah 40:25), the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (I Kings 18:36). Jesus said that God is Spirit (John 4:24). Abraham addresses Him as the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25}. He is the Almighty One, the Creator of all things. The attributes of God are mentioned by God to Moses in Exodus 34, where He describes Himself as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth; keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, upon the third and the fourth generation.”

How are the attributes of God commonly distinguished?

Distinction is made between the incommunicable and communicable attributes. By the former is meant those perfections of God in which He is unique, such as His infinity. simplicity, omnipotence and omnipresence. The communicable attributes arc those perfections of God of which there are reflections in man as made in the image of God. Even so, there is an infinite difference between God and man, and these attributes belong to God in a very different way than they are found in men. The communicable attributes are those belonging to his intelligence, power, and will.

What is meant by the transcendence and the immanence of God?

God’s transcendence means that He is above and independent of His creation. He is eternal, not bound by the laws of time and therefore also immutable, that is changeless in His being and purposes. He is the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity. On the other hand, He also fills heaven and earth and as such is immanent in all creation. In Him we live and move and have our being. We need to keep a balanced emphasis on both in our thinking of God, as the Bible does. Thus Christianity is opposed on the one hand to pantheism which identifies God and the world, and on the other hand to deism which separates God from the world.

What attribute of God is especially prominent in the faith of Reformed Christians?

The sovereignty of God. This means that He is the supreme Ruler of the universe. He is almighty and accomplishes His purposes. The history of the world is the unfolding of His plan. The will of God is revealed to us in His Word so that the commandments of God made known to us in Scripture are often called His revealed will. But we become aware of God’s plan, or His secret will only as it unfolds in the course of history. These two aspects of the one will of God arc also sometimes called His will of command and of decree. “The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that arc revealed belong unto us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

Is love the most important attribute of God?

It is true that John tells us twice in his first letter (I John 4:8, 16) that God is love, but in the same letter he also says that God is light and in him is no darkness at all (1:5). It is also true that the gospel as God’s good news to sinners stresses His love (John 3:16). When Jehovah spoke to Moses and revealed His name (Ex. 34:6) He placed His lovingkindness, patience, and readiness to forgive in the foreground. Thus for sinners the childrens hymn is true: “Wonderful things in the Bible I see, But this is the greatest, that Jesus loves me.” But we must never lose sight of the fact that God is holy. He loves righteousness and hates sin. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “He is indeed merciful, but He is also just.” Therefore we may never presume upon the love of God, and even while we rejoice ill that wonderful love the Father has bestowed upon us, remember that if we call Him Father who without respect of persons judges everyone according to his work, we ought to pass the time of our sojourning in fear. Exalt the Lord and worship Him, the holy one is He.

(Recommended reading: Knowing God, J. I. Packer, Inter Varsity Press, especially pages 67–161).