What’s God’s First Name?

In 1989 an unexpected and life-changing experience stormed into my life that altered my world. I refer to the revival that was the beginning of our community in its current form. Before then I was serving as a missionary in a popular evangelical mission organization. Although we were working with dedicated and sincere Christians, we were products of pop culture nonetheless. In fact, the revival which changed everything for me dismantled ways of thinking that I subconsciously took for granted. These ideas were obviously inherited from culture, both secular and Christian.

The revival included for me a dark night of the soul where the foundations of my Christian experience were challenged and reshaped. One particularly shocking insight had to do with my attitude toward God Himself. I had always assumed, and heard a great number of sermons and exhortations telling me, that God wanted to be near me, that He was my best friend, and was even described as a romantic lover. The most powerful sermons were the ones that passionately painted this picture of a “Song of Solomon” image of God that was sure to elicit deep feelings in the audience and, hopefully, fill the altar. No doubt the motives for teaching this somewhat maudlin view of God are admirable, seeing that many people feel alienated from Him. I’m afraid, however, that it reflects some elements of pop culture.

After a three day penetrating examination of my life I remember attending a service. I was never so clear about my own heart or the wonder of God’s grace. During worship I recall feeling unable to lift my hands. For that matter I couldn’t even lift my head. God, in His love, was introducing me to reverence. It appeared to me unthinkable that anyone could casually assume a “Song of Solomon” level of familiarity with Him. Certainly, He loved me dearly, but I was not His equal, and I didn’t offer anything that even remotely would entice Him. Paradoxically, reverence has enabled me to experience His nearness more sharply than ever before.

In Western culture there has been a slow, but continuous move toward egalitarianism. It has rapidly permeated the culture since the 60s. By egalitarianism I mean the idea that we are all equal and that everyone should be treated the same. Distinctions due to age, position, or gender are all suspect. It’s ironic that in an age where individuality is cherished, we mean to make everyone equal (one of the chief reasons for the increased interest in getting a tattoo is to express one’s individuality).

We all cry to be different, but we can’t brook the difference of others if it demands we defer to them. In other words, we tolerate everybody, but we respect nobody. Kenneth Minogue observes, “The old deferences in which one behaved differently with parents, women, teachers, clergymen, and so on have been left behind: everyone is now part of a single human scene and, broadly, one treats everyone the same.” A niece of a friend of mine teaches elementary school and, besides being called “Dude” by the students on occasion, is regularly asked what her first name is. She wisely answers, “Misses.”

Real intimacy cannot be forced and can only spring from truth. You can’t make someone love you and ignoring differences will only create distance. In spite of our insistence that we’re liberated from the conventions that govern sexuality and situational formality, we are not finding that we are closer to others and we are as lonely as ever. Respect, deference, and reverence help us walk in truth on which close relationships are based. When we recognize who is really in front of us, and submit to that, we make the first step towards a relationship of integrity. And without integrity, there is no intimacy.

Prior to 1989, I was an egalitarian who rightly experienced a gulf in my relationships. Because I want to become closer to God, I am ever seeking to become more reverent. Because I long for the intimacy of my friends and family, I am always trying to better honor them and become a more respectful follower of the Lion who is a Lamb.