By Melissa McLaughlin
“What should we name her?” came the expectant and reverent voices of my children. My daughter had discovered an abandoned kitten in my parents’ barn. Crying, wailing, calling for someone to rescue her. And rescue her we did!
Immediately we began preparations for welcoming a new kitten into our home, a kitten still too young to eat food. She looked like a small gray pom-pom ball bouncing and rolling about. A trip to the pet store provided us with our starter kit. Kitten milk and a tiny kitten bottle. We arranged a small cardboard box with a doll blanket for her bed and set up a shallow tray as the litter box. We cordoned off a modest area for her quarters with the goal of allowing her time to slowly acclimate to her new environment.
All too soon, she was prancing through the house like a princess. Our two older male cats had been dethroned from their kingly roles now that our tiny soon-to-be-queen had arrived. Gratefully, the cats became friends. Well, friends according to feline standards, agreements and conditions that is.
Next we turned to the task of naming this cherished new little life. Some years earlier, our two daughters had adopted kittens and enjoyed the privilege of naming them, Scooter and Nosy. Therefore, we all agreed our son, their younger brother, should be granted the high calling this time around. He thought long and hard and tried out a number of possibilities. Of course when choosing a name, we all want to find just the right one. Whether selecting a name for a child, a business, a book, a product or in this case a new pet, you want the name to have the right ring, to carry the weight of promise you are imagining, to capture the essence of what is and what is to come. Naming requires artistry and imagination, deep thinking and pizzazz.
After a lengthy time of deliberation, our son firmly decided upon and announced the name, “Lucky”. It was perfect! Fit her to a tee! After a difficult beginning, her little life was on a new path in a home where love for kittens would abound. It was official, we had adopted “Lucky”, our soft, gray unexpected gift of life.
As I think back to my own childhood, I remember another time in my life when I wondered about a name. When I was a young child attending Sunday School classes at church, we learned stories about the all the Bible characters. The stories stuck in my mind the way the colorful cardstock Bible figures stuck to the black flannel background on the display board in the Sunday School room. The teacher moved the cardstock figures back and forth telling the Bible stories, while my mind went back and forth wondering.
It was one part of one story in particular that clung to my memory like a prickly briar branch, a story that left me feeling the ending was insufficient, not quite right, inadequate. I remembered for a long time afterward the mystery of it all. The story involved the life of Moses. The scene was when Moses asked God to tell His name. Asking God to say His name seemed like a reasonable request to me at the time, given that Moses was expected to undertake a great assignment as a yet unknown leader of the Israelite people.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’
“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.
“I am who I am.” What? What kind of a name is that? That’s not an answer. Why didn’t God just answer Moses’ question? What is your name? I could not understand why God didn’t give Moses something more solid than “I Am” as a name.
Over the years, my faith has grown along with my continued desire to know God through His Word. I have heard many people explain God’s name, “I Am”. However, none of these explanations alone seem to answer my lingering childlike question. God gave many people names in the Bible and those names had great meaning. Abram was renamed Abraham, father of many nations. Jacob was renamed Israel, wrestled with God. Simon was renamed Peter, rock. Clearly, God understands the power of a name. Yet when God was asked His name, He responded, “I am who I am.” My childhood questions went unanswered.
The name “I Am” denotes the “other” qualities of God, God’s otherness, God’s sacredness, God’s holiness, God’s “God-ness”. He is existing, self-existing, eternal. He was, is and will always be existing. He is unchanging. His name “I Am” remains the same whether in the past, present or future. He is transcendent. Outside of time, outside of our mortal existence. He is living. “I Am” is active whether you say His name long ago or today. He still is. He just is. He is also the LORD and Sovereign Creator. Therefore, He does not have to answer to His creations. Something of His powerful presence echoes through this name, as well.
So, on one hand the name “I Am” suits God well, because it expresses His “God-ness”, which is self-existing, eternal, transcendent, unchanging, living and sovereign. In other words, God is God.
The name “I Am” also captures the idea that God is unnameable. There is no one particular quality that can express all of who God is. There are simply too many facets of God for just one word to adequately describe Him.
While at the same time, God is infinitely nameable as His qualities can be endlessly listed and named. I am…holy, righteous, just, powerful, perfect, eternal, good, loving, merciful, forgiving, kind, slow to anger, kind. I am…Creator, Lord, Judge, Savior, Redeemer, Deliverer, Provider, Shepherd, True Vine, Gate, Jesus, Holy Spirit. I am…the Way, Truth, Life, Bread of heaven, Living Water, Bridegroom, Lily of the Valley, Rose of Sharon, Bright Morning Star, Lamb of God, Lion of Judah. And on and on and on.
Now that I am older, I still wonder at the deep mystery of the name God provided to Moses so long ago. “I Am.” It is a name that expresses the “God-ness” of God, truly that God is God. It is a name that communicates a message that God is so big and wide and beyond us that He is unnameable. While it also conveys how God is endlessly nameable.
Two very short words. “I” and “am.” Yet so profound. “I Am.” So much meaning. So small and yet so large, unending and uncontainable. Who could think of a name like that? Only God.
“I Am”. What a name! What a powerful name!