Beautiful Names for God

How important our names and images for God! What we love determines who we become, and if our God is vindictive, anxious, violent and punitive, guess what we’ll be?

As scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann points out, the development of Hebrew scriptures corresponds to the development of human consciousness. The early books assert certainty, law, order and boundaries. God as rock, fortress, shield gave the people, as it gives young children, the security to grow and develop.

But as we mature, we encounter uncertainty, contradiction. As religion develops from tribalism, our images of God must grow large enough for mystery. But at the same time, they must reflect a God who is close to us, direct, never abandoning.

Islam has 99 beautiful names for God; my list is much shorter. But these have been helpful to me. Briefly described, two appear this week and three Oct. 8:

God as artist

Sept. 23, 2022 marked the first anniversary of the death of artist John August Swanson. His color bursts, swirling forms and general gusto enlivened religious subjects that had been portrayed so often we might grow blasé about them. He gave us a small window into divine artistry.

To focus on only one of myriad objects, the sculpture of a clam shell show God’s precision and grace. The shell is designed to protect the critter within, but beyond that, it’s beautiful. From a creamy center, rainbow arcs in warm earthy tones radiate out. And there are millions of them on every beach! Think too of the tone-poems God creates: a soft, dove-grey morning sky can transform into giant, snowy, puffball clouds against deepest cerulean blue in a couple hours.

God as Guest

We so often think of God as host that we forget the other part of the dynamic, how often Jesus visited others. He was welcomed by Martha, Mary and the woman who anointed him, severely criticized by his pharisee hosts. Sometimes we’re uncomfortable as guests, vulnerable and unsure what to do. We want to take charge and run the show! Jesus models how to let others serve us.

To be continued Oct. 8…

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