Defining God

Defining God - Sun through treesHow well do you really know the Lord? Quick! Before reading any more, grab a paper and pencil and jot down all the names you can think that mean God in some way. Because my boys will soon be awake and starting all the still-sleepy-rush-to-get-out-the-door morning insanity, I’m going to set my timer for two minutes and list what I can in that time…

About 15 years ago, my son attended preschool at a Baptist Church. The church office had a picture posted on plain 8.5 x 11 white paper above the copier. The picture was actually a silhouette of Jesus, but it wasn’t just any shadowed silhouette. The silhouette was made using names for Jesus in fonts of different styles and sizes, which formed Jesus’ face, hair, neck, and shoulders.

No defining outline contained the silhouette. The letters, some curved and flowing, others straight and strong, did that. The open spaces between letters and words didn’t interfere with the understanding of who or what this silhouette was. In fact, the white space worked to enhance the shadows of the written word and provided the highlighted contours needed between the words to allow us to read the names.

The silhouette fascinated me, and I remember looking at it in awe the first time thinking, “WOW! Jesus is really all that.” I don’t think any of the names surprised me; I just hadn’t thought of all of them at once or put them together like that before.

Listing the names of God was a difficult exercise, far more difficult than I thought it would be. The two minutes passed far too quickly, and I’m ashamed by how few names I came up with in that time. It’s also not like I ran out of time but was still frantically scribbling names down either. I just couldn’t think of that many when put to the test!

During that two minutes, there was a lot of dead time. There was a lot of time I just sat there thinking, “I should know more!” I spent a lot of those precious two minutes looking at my scanty list and wondering why I couldn’t read that silhouette as I still saw it in my head. I wondered how I could have seen and heard so many different names for God over the years and not be able to remember them now.

I’d started this exercise sure I’d have an impressive list. I was proud of how my faith has grown over the last seven years and how much more I know and appreciate than I did before my husband left. Now however, I sat looking at my list and knew I should have been more humble. I realized how, in my pride, I’d thought I’d quickly come up with a spectacular list of names for God. Maybe I’d even thought I’d somehow define who He is through my list.

Just before starting my timer, my first sleepy-eyed boy had stumbled out and plopped himself down on the couch next to me. He was slumped down, his head resting on my shoulder as he looked over the iPod app that showed last night’s sleep pattern.

When I finished my two minutes, I sat shaking my head and then wondered how many names my son would come up with if I challenged him to try the same thing. He groaned a bit about it being too early to think and how he’d really rather play games on his iPod, but my boys don’t turn down a challenge often so he took the paper and got to work using pretty much the entire two minutes to scribble frantically away.

I was impressed as he handed me his list. There were 12 words on it, but as I read I realized he hadn’t written names for God but had instead written mostly describing words, impressive adjectives telling what he understood of God: patient, loving, caring, unselfish, dependable, knows all, forgiving, knows what’s right, creator, exciting, calm, and peaceful.

Reading over his list made me smile and this boy young Man helped me see something important. Maybe it is something I already knew but hadn’t given enough thought to.

I realized how hard it is to truly define God.

We know God exists. We see His hand at work in our lives. We hold onto Jesus and form a relationship with Him in part because He became physical. The Father knew when He created Man that our limited understanding would have a hard time grasping concepts like the Holy Spirit so He gave us Jesus, flesh and blood and very real to us.

And yet, even that very real Man is a silhouette that cannot be defined. We use many names for Jesus because no one name defines Him, no 10 names define Him, no infinite number of names define Him.

I thought through the many names I’d ever heard refer to Jesus or God or the Spirit in any of His three forms.

Maybe Love would define Him, but even Love is something we cannot understand fully. Love, as we know it even in our best moments and for those we care the most about, is limited.

For God, Love has no limit. There is no limit for the Love He has for you. There is no limit to the forgiveness His Love offers when you seek it. His Love for you has existed from the moment He thought of you an eternity ago and will be there, unchanging, infinite eternities from today. God Loves you perfectly, eternally, unchangingly, without defining barriers or conditions. His Love is not contained in an outline but roams through the empty spaces in our hearts when we ask Him to.

Our two minutes was up. Our lists were pathetically short and immediately we started thinking of names we should have added to our list. A day or two has passed since I started this post and I could add many more names now than I could have then, but I still can’t define God.

I think back to the silhouette with the names and all the white spaces between the words forming the outline of Jesus’s silhouette, all those undefined spaces even in the physical God, as Jesus, whom we claim to know and love. I wondered how much more there was to know and love in Him and in the Trinity, how much more there was to learn about God the Father, Creator, Artist, Potter, and how much more to know about the Holy Spirit, Paraclete, Advocate, Wisdom…

It is inconceivable.

This Sunday, Catholics celebrated The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, a one day feast honoring the Three-in-One. Many Catholic celebrations, such as Easter and Christmas, last for several days and even weeks. The celebration of the Trinity is but one day.

Maybe that’s because, given a lifetime, we could not properly honor the Trinity. We cannot know how. We cannot define or adequately nail down one name for God any more than the Pharisees could nail down Jesus on the Cross. The point of being Christian isn’t to claim to know God, but to never give up humbly searching for Him, to continuously add names to your list, to know those white spaces between then names aren’t empty spaces but filled with undefinable, boundless Love for you.

We cannot fill in those gaps in our understanding or defining or knowing God, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying or ever claim to know God. We must never give up searching for the Lord in all of His three forms. We cannot be satisfied thinking we know the Lord, but we must continue to be hungry to learn more and to love more.

Seek and you shall find.

Add to your list.

And know that when you seek God,

you are also not defined by your name.

You are only defined by God’s Love.

God Bless…

And, as always, thanks for commenting, liking, following, and sharing!

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1 thought on “Defining God”

  1. This is a great post, Strahan. I have a coffee mug at work with all the names of Jesus, and I have no idea if it is comprehensive. I don’t have it in front of me, but there’s a lot of names. Now add God the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Trinity and you do come up with a plethora of names for God.

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