By Rev. Karen Hernandez, Pastor of Living Hope-Kuna United Methodist Church
The names of Biblical characters often give us hints about who the person was or what the person did. Moses, for example, means “pulled out.” What a perfect name! Moses was the baby in the basked who was pulled out of the river. Later Moses was the leader of the Israelites who led them out (or pulled them out) of slavery.
In Exodus 3:11-15, Moses asks what name he should call God. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When we enter into relationship and especially when we begin to trust, it seems important to be able to call one another by name. God has already called Moses by name at this point. Moses wants to do the same with God, along with being prepared to justify himself to the people of Israel.
Some traditions say that God had no name prior to this conversation with Moses. There was no agreed upon word or phrase for referring to God. In a time when so many different gods were worshipped, a name would certainly help to refer to a particular god. We have scriptures that come before this, but every instance of “God,” “the Lord,” or “the Lord God” that precedes this is all the result of this conversation between Moses and God.
So Moses asks for a name. He probably expecting something like Bob or Susan or Guinevere or Howard. (The author Robert Fulghum points out that lots of people call God “Howard”—as in “Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name…”) Instead of a name, God answers Moses with a verb. “I am who I am,” God replies, which is not an especially helpful answer!
Obviously God was not speaking to Moses in English, so God did not literally say, “I am.” That is our translation. But God did answer Moses with the Hebrew equivalent of a being verb. If we get even more technical, God speaks the causal form of a being verb, which means “causes to be.” Since I have never in my life studied Hebrew, I had to look up that verb. The answer I found was a delightful surprise! Do you know to say “causes to be” or “I am” in Hebrew? It is “Yahweh,” of course.
“I am” isn’t really a name at all, but it is the perfect name for God. What other name could so perfectly capture the essence of God? Such an open-ended name that presumes only being allows God to be all of the things we know God to be: I am whatever you need. I am always and everywhere. I am listening. I am creating. I am loving. I am.
If you would like to be more aware of the presence of God in yourself, in others, and all around, I have a suggestion. Every time you say, “I am…” pause to remember the presence of God within you. And every time you hear someone else say, “I am…” stop and recognize that person as a child of God, too. I’ll help you to start right away.
I am blessed to be in a church and community where people practice their faith in words and in action every day.