The God who is there
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
(Exodus 3:13-14, NIV)
In his famous encounter with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3), Moses asked God for His name. It was an obvious question, given that Moses was meeting the living God for the first time.
The answer God gave him — I am who I am — sounds, at first, elusive. If we asked someone their name and this is how they replied, we might conclude they were unwilling to answer. It sounds like “Mind your own business!”
Yet it holds a truth of the most profound significance.
This is the real God introducing Himself, and right from the start, He is wanting Moses to know that He really is there: an objective reality, as opposed to someone who fits in with our wishes. A wife might say to her husband, “I wish you were better at DIY” — only to receive the reply, “I am who I am!”
This is important, because when we think about God we often bring preconceived ideas. “I like to think of God as…”, we say. This “god” often tends to be a projection of our own values.
Israel of old needed to learn that lesson, right at the outset. They’d come from a society (in Egypt) where the gods were human inventions, and as the story of the Golden Calf shows, they were also to go on to do this inventing themselves.
The name God chose for Himself, Yahweh when transliterated, is related to this: it sounds like I am in Hebrew. It’s as if God wanted Israel to remember this every time they used His name!
But the God of the Bible is the real God, out there, in no sense the product of human imagination or projection of our values or desires. He cannot be domesticated, altered or dreamt up. He is to be studied and wondered at and worshipped and received, but not imagined or constructed. Christian theology is not a creative art, but, as it has been called, “The queen of sciences”.
This same God has made Himself known to us in Jesus. Will we read our Bibles genuinely seeking to know the truth about Him, and wary of our own prejudices and imaginations? The God we discover there is both surprising and more wonderful than one we could ever have thought up.
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