The Secret Name of God
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I am still amazed by something a friend emailed to me yesterday, a quote from a devotional called Behold and Be Held, the Memorial Name of God, by Aaron Rabin. I can't find this devotional on the web, or I would link to it. I won't quote the whole thing here, lest I infringe on Mr. Rabin's copyright. So I'll just get to the bottom line.
In the devotional, Mr. Rabin refers to the tetragrammaton, YHVH. This is the most holy name of God, given to Moses at the burning bush, the one that most English translations render as “I AM”. The Hebrew letters sound like "Yud Hey Vav Hey". YHVH is also the "forgotten" name of God, which Jews say has a meaning and a pronunciation that was lost because their ancestors have refused to speak it aloud since about a generation before the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. (To learn more about this, visit this site, and scroll down to "The Name".) Today YHVH is most often rendered as "Yahweh" when written or spoken by Christians and others. It is still never pronounced aloud by Orthodox Jews. “Jehovah” is an older, less accurate rendition. YHVH is also the name most often printed as the LORD (all caps) in English Bibles. (Sometimes "Adonai" is translated that way as well.)
Anyway, in his devotional Mr. Rabin refers to a conversation he had with an Orthodox rabbi, which drove him to question his Christian faith. Here is a quote:
"As I spoke to the Orthodox rabbi and used the Scriptures to support my faith, I felt like a child in a highchair trying to explain the theory of relativity to Albert Einstein. He called me an apostate Jew, accusing me not of finding Messiah but of embracing a pagan religion. He wielded the Scriptures like a sharp sword, slicing my faith - and my heart - into smaller and smaller pieces.
"My testimony, which had always been to me like a beautiful stained glass window that I could gaze at to see the power of God's saving grace, now seemed like a pile of broken glass. My faith was in crisis. I knelt and pleaded with God to restore the joy of His salvation in me."
This is very like the crisis I felt myself after spending years studying the Torah with several rabbis in my home town. (You can read about it here.) Like me, Mr. Rabin turned to the Lord and to the Bible. In the midst of his search for truth, he says the Holy Spirit led him to the story of the burning bush, and the secret name of God, YHVH.
Mr. Rabin investigated the ideographic meaning of the Hebrew letters Yud Hey Vav Hey. An ideogram is a symbol that represents an idea, like those little male and female shaped signs you see on the outside of public restroom doors. This is similar--but not identical--to the Chinese written system, or ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Hebrew letters have had ideographic meanings since ancient times. (Learn more here). I knew this, but I never thought to check the tetragrammaton against those meanings as Mr. Rabin did. When I verified his assertion here, here and here, I was amazed. There are several ideographic meanings for each of the letters. Hey, for example can mean both "window", and "look" or "behold". Vav can mean "hook", "peg", or "nail". But in each case the ideas represented by the letters are closely related. With all of this in mind, using the ideographic meanings of Yud Hey Vav Hey most commonly accepted by Jewish scholars throughout the centuries, I found they absolutely match Rabin's translation.
Symbolically speaking, the most holy name of God, YHVH, can indeed be translated as:
"Behold, the hand. Behold, the nail."
Posted byAthol Dickson at 7:07 AM
The Easter Equation
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Strange, but with Easter coming up tomorrow I find myself thinking about people I don’t know, the Spitzer family in New York to be exact, and most especially, Governor Spitzer’s wife. Why on earth is she still there, standing beside that man? There’s no way to know for certain without knowing her, of course. Maybe she hasn’t left him yet because she is in shock. Maybe she’s only staying from longstanding habit. Even Mrs. Spitzer might not fully understand her reasons. But there’s always the possibility of forgiveness, and with Easter morning just a few hours away, it seems appropriate to think about forgiveness, and repentance, and the reason for the cross and empty tomb.
When a hateful thing is done, the first question we must ask is, “Do I care enough about this person to continue the relationship?” For a Christian, there should be one answer only. Jesus made it clear that we must pick up a cross and follow him, and the cross means reconciliation. Consider this:
Reconciliation = Repentance + Forgiveness
There is a missing portion of this formula which I will add, one last thing that makes it worth the effort, but first I want to point out that this equation means no one person can repair a broken relationship. It takes two, and hard things are required of both.
Maybe Mrs. Spitzer is standing there because she’s willing to do her part. If so, I salute her. Very few people seem to have that kind of courage these days. As a Bible teacher, whenever my classes get to passages dealing with forgiveness I like to bring up marital unfaithfulness because for most of us adultery is one place where the rubber really meets the road. It’s interesting how almost everyone will agree that people who do wrong ought to repent, period, and no excuses, but when it comes to the forgiveness part of the equation we feel free to apply conditions and equivocations. While all of us can easily imagine ourselves in the position of the wronged party, it’s a sad reminder of the fallen human condition that so much effort is required to put ourselves in the shoes of the wrongdoer. Any Christian who says, “I could never sin as horribly as Mr. Spitzer did,” has failed to learn a basic Bible fact. Remember Moses, the murderer. Remember David, the adulterer and murderer. Remember Peter, the betrayer. Heaven forbid I should ever see myself as less of a sinner than any of them, because such pride does indeed go before a fall. In fact, such pride is a fall. If I went around thinking, “I’d never sin that badly,” I would be sinning then and there. Jesus had a special anger in his heart for hypocrites.
Also, as a Christian I don’t get to say, “You’re only sorry because you got caught.” Being a Christian doesn’t mean I have to be naïve, so of course I’d be crazy not to watch for signs of that kind of insincerity, but in the meantime when someone comes to me and says “I hurt you and I have no excuse and I’m truly sorry and I hope you will forgive me,” then as a Christian bound to lift his cross, I have to say, “Okay, I forgive you.” Often, forgiveness is the very cross we have to bear. Only God can look into a person’s heart and know if they are insincere. The Bible does not speak of a spiritual gift of “discernment,” if by that we mean the ability to read minds. Prophesy, knowledge and wisdom, yes; mind reading, no. After all, if a person had discernment enough to know a confession is insincere, there would be no need for the confession, because such a mind reader could not have been betrayed in the first place. Of course a person with the gifts of knowledge and wisdom might say, “Most people are not totally sincere about repenting under these circumstances, so the odds are this guy doesn’t really mean what he says.” But a truly wise and knowledgeable person would also have to add, “‘Most people’ does not mean ‘all people,’ and no person can know for sure if an apparently heartfelt expression of repentance is sincere. Only the passage of time could reveal that truth.”
This is precisely why Jesus commands us to “turn the other cheek.” Being God, he did not pick his metaphors lightly. He meant we cannot read each other’s minds, so we must be willing to risk another slap. He also meant we must be willing to stand within slapping range. If that were not his meaning, he would have used a different metaphor. Again, he is God, and says just what he means. “Forgiveness” from a distance to avoid a second round of pain is not forgiveness, at least not by Jesus’ definition. When someone hurts me horribly, then they come and say, “I hurt you and I have no excuse and I’m truly sorry and I hope you will forgive me,” as a Christian, I not only have to say I forgive them; I have to prove it. I have to step close to them, to be with them, to re-engage with them. Although I may have done nothing wrong, I must risk another slap. This is not always a literal requirement. For example, I don't believe the Lord expects an abused wife to endure her husband's blows. But it is possible to get distance on one level while remaining within arm's length on another. Forgiveness exists for the sake of reconciliation, and reconciliation means relationship.
This kind of engaged forgiveness is very hard, but it must be remembered that the same is true of real repentance. True repentance is humiliating. Very humiliating. In a case like Governor Spitzer’s it means being willing to hang around a person who knows what a louse you’ve been, and never being able to deny it, or escape it, or downplay it. For someone who does not really believe they did a horrible thing, or someone who does not care, this is fairly easy. You hang on to your foolish pride through foolish denial. But for a truly repentant person, for someone who truly understands, accepts and mourns the depth of harm they did, it is misery to have to face your failed reflection in a loved one’s wounded eyes. How much easier to simply walk away, to get the emotional distance you need to at least pretend you are a decent person. How brave it is to stay there in plain sight, humiliated daily for the sake of the relationship.
How can any Christian turn away from that second slap? How can any Christian chose pride above the humiliation of sincere repentance? To endure a punishment not deserved, to endure the humiliation of a wrongdoer, are these not the very things Christ did for us upon the cross? Can any authentic follower of Jesus do less?
Yet if I was part of the Spitzer family this Easter weekend, I would wonder how any mortal could possibly carry such a cross.
The answer lies within the question. We can carry a cross because we follow the Cross. The example Jesus set is itself the Way to live by the example. Sacrificial forgiveness and repentance are required by God, and possible through God. He stoops down to make us great. And if he stoops for your sake and for mine, who are we to stand before each other when he humbly bids us kneel? God is love, which explains the rest of that formula, the part that makes it worth the effort:
Reconciliation = Repentance + Forgiveness = Love.
Humiliation for the sake of love. Sorrow for the sake of love. Suffering for the sake of love. This is what Christ did for you and me on the cross and in the empty tomb. This is also what he asks of you and me. So on tomorrow’s Easter morning, search your heart for bitterness and pride, and then confess, repent, forgive and above all, love, because he first loved you. This is the Easter equation, the only thing that adds up to a life worth living.
Posted byAthol Dickson at 3:45 PM
Labels: The Jesus Way