I was sitting in the easy chair one Saturday morning when my five-year-old daughter came up to me with a mischievous gleam in her eye. She leaned in and whispered: “Dad, I have a great trick to play . . . on your wife.”
When she referred to the woman in question as “my wife” instead of “Mom” or “my Mother” or even “Rhonda” (her Mom’s given name), I knew it was going to be a doozy.
Names can convey a lot. (The trick, by the way, was an elaborate scheme to dupe “my wife” into tasting barbequed ribs—which is my daughter’s favorite food, but which my wife has steadfastly refused to try over the years. And for the record, I declined to authorize “Operation Trojan Rib.” I figured considerations of domestic tranquility—and self-preservation (after all my wife has been known to eat things like sushi, and I definitely don’t want that snuck into my Cheerios in the morning)—dictated scuttling my daughter’s culinary machinations, much to her chagrin.)
The special significance of names is a prominent feature throughout the Bible, starting in Genesis, when God delegates the naming of the animals to Adam (speaking of ribs—and the name Adam itself is telling, meaning “of the earth”; it’s also the name that gave us our modern word “atom,” meaning the first unit). In the episode of the naming of the animals Genesis teaches that the authority to name belongs to God (and that we also learn that God has delegated sovereignty over the animals to man, as signified by God’s granting Adam authority to name the animals).
Elsewhere in Scripture God Himself will exercise His authority to name. For example, when God gives Abram, Jacob, and Simon their new names (Abraham, Israel, and Peter). And God will rename whole nations, such as when the book of Isaiah tells us that at Zion’s salvation it “shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give.” Is 62, 2.
In God’s renaming of people and peoples we are reminded of the “Atomic” lesson of Genesis (as in the foundational lesson, not fusional; “Atomic” as in “Adam,” that which is of first things): the simple but profound truth that we are God’s people. All of humanity are God’s people. We belong to Him.
From that flow many things, such as the realization that we don’t tell God what He is to call us, He tells us what our name is. Just as God has ultimate authority over the rest of creation (as seen in the naming of the animals), so too God has ultimate authority over us, over all His human family. Despite what modern culture may assert or try to convince us to the contrary, in fact we are not our own gods—as Adam and Eve learned to their bitter regret in the Garden of Eden.
From that “Atomic” reality flows another profound truth: that no matter what happens in this world, ultimately, in the end—in the last and final things—we are in God’s hands. The same hands of power which fashioned the cosmos, which took clay and molded it into man and created our father Adam, are the hands which hold us. And those hands of power are also hands of love, love even to the point of “death, even death on a cross,” Phil 2, 8. The very hands which created the stars and galaxies were pierced for us, such is God’s love. And God has revealed to us another secret of names. In the Book of Isaiah God told us: “. . . I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name . . .” Is 49, 15-16. On the hands that hold all the universe, that were wounded for us, God has written our name, that He may be ever mindful of us. Those are the hands that hold us, and there is no better place to be.
Copyright 2015 Jake Frost.
Photo by Ed Yourdon; “Little girl whispering something in a woman’s ear;” (2009) from https://commons.wikimedia.org, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.