Born in Aosta, Italy, Anselm (1033-1109) joined a Benedictine monastery in 1060 at Bec, Normandy and eventually became the spiritual head of his order. One day he was out in the garden meditating on Psalm 14:1 which reads, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” Although Anselm was simply engaged in a routine personal meditation and devotional time with God, what he wrote following his meditation was so profound that it is being discussed by theologians and philosophers to this day. His words have been labeled, “an ontological argument for the existence of God”. The point I want to bring up is his definition of God. He wrote, “God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. This definition of God is indeed so true that it cannot be thought of as not being true.” You can check out his argument later, but for now, like Anselm, we too want to focus on this awesome and true God who is more profound than we could ever imagine, who surpasses the definition of all other gods, and who has made Himself known to various people throughout history. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Our English word “god”, from the German language, is a generic name that applies to any supreme being or object of worship. The word “god” has the general meaning: “a deity whom people petition for help or support”. The word “God” is the name English speaking people use most often when referring to the God of the Bible, the god of another religion, or any pagan or false god. (Joshua 23:7-8; 24:16, 23; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6) The Greek word, “theos” (John 1:1), is translated as “God” 1000 times in the New Testament, and refers mostly to the Israelite God who is revealed in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “Elohim” is translated as “God” about 2000 times. Among other things, Elohim is the Creator God. (Genesis 1:1)
There is a vast variety of views about God.
(1) Deists, for example, are believers in God who say that God created the world and then left it to run by the created laws of nature. Other than being Creator, God never has anything to do with our world; He never gets involved. But, of course, the Bible presents God as very much interested in us and in the world He made, so much so that He makes Himself known so that we can have a personal and eternal relationship with Him.
(2) Another view of God is the one psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud posed. Freud (1856-1939) said that God is only a figment of people’s imaginations, a God of people’s own making, invented in pre-science days to help them explain the world, to give them comfort in their sufferings, and to provide them with peace in the face of death. It is quite true that people do tend to make God into their own liking, defining Him to be whatever they want him to be, primarily so that their lifestyles can be supported. But according to the Bible, God takes the initiative to speak and act in human history, revealing Himself so that we know who He is, and so we do not have to rely on our own imaginations or false views. We must learn to understand and know Him as He says He is, and accept Him as He reveals Himself to be, not redefine Him into who we want Him to be.
(3) Another view is that the God of the Bible is two Gods, or one God who changes over time. Some see the God in the Old Testament as a God of anger, wrath, and judgment and the God of the New Testament as a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. Actually, a clear understanding of the Bible will show that God is the same in both Testaments. Here are a few verses showing that He is angry and judging and loving and forgiving in both parts of the Bible. (Genesis 6:11-13; Acts 5:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9; Revelation 6:15-17; Exodus 34:6-7; Deuteronomy 7:7-10; Psalm 103:8; 107:1, 43; Micah 7:18; 1 John 4:7-8) To follow Anselm’s definition of God, the God of the Bible must possess the perfection of every quality that is good and right. Therefore, He is perfectly good and rightly angry, perfectly good and rightly judging, perfectly good and rightly vengeful, perfectly good and rightly jealous, perfectly good and rightly loving, perfectly good and rightly merciful, perfectly good and rightly forgiving, and so forth. So, why do people see two Gods?
Part of the perceived difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament is due to the differences between Law and Gospel. The Law brings God’s wrath (Romans 4:15) and the Gospel, which was also in the Old Testament, brings grace. (Romans 4:13-16; 6-8) Besides not understanding Law and Gospel, I can understand another reason why people see two Gods, for I too have cringed at the wrathful, seemingly unloving acts of God in the Old Testament. But I adjusted my views when I realized that God’s judgment was justly deserved due to the extreme wickedness of people. (Genesis 6:5; Proverbs 28:5) Also, I realized His judgment was an act of love, protecting the good of society from evil. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8) Furthermore, any so-called innocents who wrongfully die are preserved alive in God’s presence (2 Samuel 12:21-23), and He will one day right all the wrongs of evil and injustice. (Romans 12:19; Acts 17:31) So, who is God?
The Biblical God is transcendent which means that He is Spirit existing outside the dimensions of the created universe. He is separate and is not a part of the substance of the material world. (John 4:24) But, He is also immanent which means He operates within the universe. He can take shape, cause visible events, and speak His will to His creation. (Genesis 17:1-2; Acts 27:18-25) Our knowledge of what we need to know of Him would be very inadequate if He did not take the initiative to let us know who He is and what He wants. We are about to explore some of the places in the Bible where God has told us His name; looking at how He did it, and why? We learn who He is and what He is like through His revealed names and the events surrounding His revelations. We also learn to know Him through the names given to Him by persons who experienced Him directly. We begin our exploration with the accounts of His revelation to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and His revelation to Moses.
“El Shaddai” is a name God revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Genesis 17:1-2; 28:3; 35:11; Exodus 6:3) The first part of this name, “El”, is used about 250 times in the Old Testament. It means “strong, mighty, and prominent”. “El Shaddai” is “God Almighty”, the “all sufficient one”, the God who is sufficient for His people’s needs, who has the power to bring about the fulfillment of His promises to them. To fulfill His promises, He enabled Abraham and Sarah to have a baby when they were past the age of being able to do so. (Romans 4:17-21) As the strong, powerful, and all-sufficient One, He can work miracles to guarantee that His promises happen. El Shaddai promised Abraham that through His offspring, all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:13-16) Today’s believers are recipients of El Shaddai’s promise.
“I Am” (Hayah), together with YHWH (Yahweh), is the name God gave to Moses during the incident of the burning bush. (Exodus 3:1-15) Yahweh is the most frequently used name for God in the Old Testament, occurring over 6,500 times. We pronounce YHWH either as Yahweh or Jehovah. His name, YHWH, is enhanced by His newly revealed name “I Am”, “the self-existent one”. (Exodus 3:14-15) Everything else that exists relies on something other than itself for its existence. Not God; He is the one and only self-existent substance and as such is the cause of all else that exists. I wondered why God would use a burning bush to reveal His name as “I Am”. Actually, the burning bush illustrates God’s self-existent nature. The thing that captured Moses attention about the burning bush was not that it was on fire, but that the bush was not being burnt and destroyed by the fire. (Exodus 3:1-3) At that moment, the bush was like God – it was self existing. It is as if God was demonstrating to Moses, “If you trust Me and if you become one with Me, I can make you to become like this bush; self-existent so that nothing will be able to destroy you.” The promise to Moses is this: you and My people may go through the fires of affliction and suffering, but if you are united with Me by your faith, nothing will be able to destroy you. I will bring you into My self-existing realm to be with me forever. Indeed, this is what the apostle Paul was saying when He wrote that nothing, not even death itself can separate us from God’s self-existing love. (Romans 8:35-39) This is what Jesus, also the “I AM” of timeless existence, (John 8:58) demonstrated about Himself. He is the self-existing life which cannot be destroyed. He said, “Destroy this body and I will raise it in three days”. (John 2:19:21) He can give this life to all who trust Him. (John 3:16)
Thus, God was telling Moses that by trusting Him as El Shaddai and I Am, and going to Egypt to free the Hebrews from their slavery, God not only had the power to make their freedom possible, He could also lead them into a self-existing realm. God’s intention is to create a new race of people who can never be destroyed, leading them to the ultimate and eternal city of God. (Hebrews 11:13-16) True, they can never be God, but He can bring them into His own self-existence and keep them there, as demonstrated by the burning bush. This All Mighty and eternally existing God certainly meets Anselm’s definition of God: “nothing greater than this can be thought”.
How do we know that the God of the Bible is the only true self-existent and almighty God? Any other religion could make the same claim for its god. As we examine the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, when Jehovah comes up against any other god, we find that He proves to be the far superior and unequaled God. For example, He defeats all the gods of Egypt and the Egyptians recognize that He is far superior to their gods, for their gods cannot do what He does. (Exodus 7-12) Later, when Elijah defends Jehovah over a pagan god, God again demonstrates His superiority by doing things their god cannot do. (1 Kings 18:20-39) In the days of the Greek and Roman culture, with their plethora of gods, Jehovah again demonstrates His power by raising Jesus bodily from the dead, something they would not think of their gods doing, which is why their leaders mock when they hear about such a thing. (Acts 17:22-23, 30-32) The God of the Bible backs up His claims with actions.
God demonstrated His unmatched power through another name; “The Word”, “Jesus”. (John 1:1; Matthew 1:21) Jesus means Savior. As the “I AM”, equal to His Father, (John 8:58) He did things no other religious leaders, nor their gods, have ever been able to duplicate. He could calm a violent storm by simply speaking to it, walk on water (Mark 4:39-41; 6:48), heal diseases in an instant, cause the crippled to walk, the blind to see, and the dead to rise. (Matthew 11:2-6) God is our healer. (Exodus 15:26) Through Jesus, many have experienced one aspect of His healing – He heals the broken-hearted and releases them from captivity. (Psalm 147:3; Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:17-18) God wants to bless us by having us put our faith in Jesus. (Acts 3:16) God made it plain to all humanity that there is no other name than His, by which we must be saved. (Isaiah 45:22; Acts 4:12)
Thus, God proves Himself to be a God who truly is above the material universe and not subject to the natural laws by which our world operates. He truly is the self-existent one, the almighty God, Jesus. His claim to the prophet Isaiah, “there is no other God like Me”, is substantiated by the things He has done in human history. (Isaiah 43:10-13; 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 18, 20-23) No other religion can boast of a God like this. The same claim made by Jehovah-Elohim in Isaiah 45:23, is also true about Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11); all will one day bow to Him.
Another name people used when addressing God was “Adonai”. It is a title of respect and honor indicating humble submission to one to whom submission is due. It is translated as Lord or Master - someone who has a right to be over you. In the New Testament the Greek word “Kurios” is translated as Lord. Following are a few stories helping us to see what it means to call Him Lord. (1) God appeared to Abraham when He informed Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom. Abraham addresses God as Adonai, with an attitude of reverence and submission. (Genesis 18:3, 17-33) He is cautious and sensitive to the fact that by his questioning of God he may be overstepping his boundaries in the eyes of a righteous and just Lord. (2) God wants Moses to go to Egypt and carry out an assignment. Moses respectfully addresses God as Lord when he answers Him with an excuse as to why he cannot do what God is telling him to do. (Exodus 4:10) But he does not understand that to call God Lord means that you accept Him as Master and you do what the Master wants. Eventually God becomes angry with Moses and Moses realizes that God wants his obedience. When God reassures him that He will be with Him and help Him, Moses yields and does God’s will. (3) King David had a time of prayer before God. He said, “Who am I O Lord God, and what is my house that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18) Because of God’s goodness, David feels undeserving and is humble before the Lord.
Like David, when we personally experience various aspects of the character of God, and realize all He has done for us in spite of our undeserved status, we will reverberate David’s heart of wonder and joy, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name In all the earth.” (Psalm 8:1) “I will sing praises to your name.” (Psalm 18:49)
Thus, the meaning of the name “Adonai” is clear. If God is really our Lord, then we humbly respect Him and we become willing to obey His commands and wishes as we find them in the Scriptures. Jesus has the same position as God; He too is Lord, and He gives the meaning of Lord when He says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you?” Like Thomas, who bowed before Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God”, we too need to know Him in that same way; deep felt respect, worship, trust, and voluntary obedience.
There are many more names of God in the Bible, each exhibiting some aspect of His character. Here are a few of the names that others gave to Him because of what they experienced: (1) Abraham called God “Jehovah-Jireh”, “God will provide”, (Genesis 22:14) because in response to Abraham’s faith, God provided a sacrifice to take the place of Abraham’s only son who was about to die. (Genesis 22:7-8) We also know God that way because He has done the same for us in providing us a Savior from death. (Luke 23:33-43) (2) Gideon called him “Jehovah-Shalom”, “the Lord our Peace”. The Lord appeared to Gideon and calmed his fears. Shalom is the peace that results when we develop a trusting relationship with God. (3) “Jehovah-Tsidkenu” means “The Lord our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6) Jesus is also called “our righteousness”. (1 Corinthians 1:30) Through faith in Him we are declared to be righteous so that we will be able to participate in the righteous world He will establish when He comes. (2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Peter 3:13) God promises to satisfy those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. (Matthew 5:6) (4) A familiar name of God for many believers is “Jehovah-Rohi”, “The Lord our Shepherd”. (Psalm 23:1) He guides us through life and leads us to what we need, whether it is rest for our soul or getting through the valley of the shadow of death. (5) “Abba”, God is Father. Although this name was mostly made known by Jesus (Mark 11:25; 14:36; John 14:6; 20:17), it had been known in the Old Testament. (Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Malachi 1:6) Amazingly, Jesus, although He is God’s son, is given the same title of Father. (Isaiah 9:6) What does “Father” mean? God is father to His people because they have their origin in Him. (Isaiah 1:2) God is the father of believers in Christ because He adopts us into His family. (Romans 8:15-16) Being born of Him (John 1:12-13) means He is to be trusted, respected, and loved as the authoritative head of His family. He sometimes disciplines us for our good. (Hebrews 12:5) He is our provider and operates like the loving father in Luke 15:11-32. He wants us to know Him as our Father. (Matthew 6:9) He is not like some earthly fathers who have abused their power over their children.
The whole Bible is about God revealing who He is, and when we read it, we learn what He wants us to understand about Him, how He wants us to relate to Him, and how He instructs us to live our lives. Many people in the Scriptures have given names to Him based on what He did for them. These names are simply personal reflections of what they know of Him based on His actions and the character He exhibited to them on particular occasions. We too learn who God is as we read the testimonies of what others say about Him, and as we experience Him for ourselves. (Jeremiah 9:23-24) We are called to learn of God, for Jesus said, “Come and learn of me”. When we personally experience His revealed character, we will trust Him, we will love Him, and we will become like He is by being eternally restored and conformed to the qualities of God-likeness. By trusting the many facets of His character, and showing our trust by how we live, we will be obeying one of His ten commandments – “not taking the name of the Lord in vain”. (Exodus 20:7) We will never find the end of Anselm’s definition of God, but the names He has allowed us to know and experience are all we need for an abundant and rewarding life of fellowship with Him, both in this world, and forever in the next. (John 17:3) Some people may say, “I never see God”. But they don’t look, either. Neither do they believe others’ testimonies concerning their experiences of Him. Skepticism prevents God-sightings. (Psalm 14:1)