Life Without a Name

I’m terrible with names. If you know me, or if you ever get to know me, you will learn this. Your face, I’ll remember, though. I guess that speaks to my desire to get to know a person. I’m not one to take first impressions very seriously, but what was on your face does help me remember you. But wouldn’t communication be terrible if we all called each other by our genders, by our humanity, by our ethnicities? How vague a world we would live in, not to mention confusing! Can you imagine only being able to say, “Hey, man!” only to have every male in the room turn to stare awkwardly at you, awaiting a pointing finger because, well, no names, right?

It’s cool, though, how names actually are made up of attributes! It’s just that they tend to not be as silly as race or gender. Take my name, for example. “Michael.” This name is rooted in several Hebrew words that together mean, “Who is like God?” as a rhetorical comparison: there is no one like God. Many Hebrew names follow similar trends. Uriel means, “God is my light,” and Gabriel means, “messenger of God.” References to God, though, are not the only thing found in Hebrew names. Jacob means, “supplanting,” in other words, to replace, displace, by superseding. We see this by Jacob’s clenching at Esau’s heel at their birth, as well as Jacob’s acquisition of Esau’s birthright at the cost of a bowl of soup — seriously. Then there’s Mara, meaning, “bitter.” Biblically, there was a reason for giving such a name, but why on earth someone would name a person “bitter” is beyond me.

Names make it easy for us to make distinctions when things are different. They help us to describe, even to define things and people. Imagine what it would be like to live in a world where you and only you had no name. Kind of odd, right? Imagine that everyone you met had to call you by a feature. “Hey, you, with the black hoodie!” or, “Hey, blondie!” or, “You, the nerdy one!” It kind of reduces a person, doesn’t it? I mean, sure, if we don’t know a person’s name, what else can we do but call them by their apparent attributes? And usually, we respond because usually, we define ourselves by our attributes, ignoring that we’re made of much stronger stuff, that there’s an individual beneath the winds of their life.

So we have names. There’s just something insufficient about what we’re like or where we’ve come from. We have to be very specific about it. And it’s not like we just have names for individual people, different souls of the same design; but we have names for every living and nonliving thing we encounter, every new concept we uncover, every device we assemble. It’s part of the same process of distinction and definition. Otherwise, how could we determine the difference between breeds of animals, which computers are desktops or tablets?

There’s something about specificity that’s needed for human beings to thrive. We can’t just haphazardly assign a value to a thing without sufficient evidence that a thing has that value. Newton didn’t assign a formula to measure the impact of gravity between two objects without running tests. Boyle didn’t assign a formula to his gas laws until he tested different values of volume, pressure, and temperature. The universe has so many variables, and they interact in so many ways that are constant, like these laws. Imagine what it would have been like for NASA to have tried to send men to the moon, rovers to Mars, assemble massive space stations capable of sustaining life and orbit so far away from anywhere habitable—all of that, but without knowing how to compress and decompress parts of the ships, or what exactly “escape velocity” is for a ship of given size, shape, and mass.

All of this happened because someone at some time realized it would be important to be specific and concise, to create definitions and descriptions, and names. That way, we know what the heck we’re actually doing when we do things. After the convention of our Creator, we’ve been naming things since time began. God started with Adam, then Adam took over with Eve, not to mention naming the animals, his children. People built cities and named them for people and ideas. Today, we remain unchanged in our need to name. So why is it so hard to speak the greatest name of all: Jesus?

The gospel of Christ is the power of God to effect the salvation of mankind, irrespective of race, ethnicity, and descent, according to the scriptures, but what good is living out the gospel without speaking the name by which we must be saved? What good is telling people you have food if you refuse to cough up the source? It really works both ways. It’s not just a matter of living the gospel, and it’s not just a matter of talking about it. We need both, just like we as children need not only to be loved by our parents but also to be told; otherwise, it could be misconstrued that their good works could be strictly from obligation. Not only do lovers need to actually love each other, but it’s good to hear it. It’s sweet to hear words of goodness, just like it was sweet for a fragrance to be poured on Jesus’ feet by someone to whom He showed mercy.

But we need to take His name outside the bounds of our private worship. We need to tell others. We talk about “the Lord,” and we talk about “God,” but that can mean lots of things. So many cultures believe in a god or gods, which is great because we need to acknowledge that there’s someone above us all, but so many times, those gods are false because they lead us right back to ourselves. They’re either so angry that we scramble to fix ourselves, or so apathetic that we have no one else to turn to, or they’re so universal that it doesn’t matter who they are or what their message is because we will all end up returning to them in the end.

With Jesus, though, things are different.

With Jesus, there is only one way to be saved, just like there is only one way to space: up. He cannot be found by every path you could possibly follow, but that’s part of why He is so reliable.

With Jesus, He bothered to come to earth to redeem us. He didn’t run away. He didn’t leave it up to us to figure out because we’re not God. He knew that, and out of compassion, He came to pay the price for our sins and show us the way out: through His cross.

With Jesus, the righteous wrath of God was poured out in full on Him, not us because He could and because it would mean we would have a second chance to be the good we were originally made to be.

Every single reason we have to run from the Lord was canceled out with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Now, it’s in His name that we have life. So shout it from the rooftops. Jesus is the Lord, and that is good news.

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