Monday, January 20, 2014

The Names We Call Ourselves

It was just another day with another child thinking he could lawyer me into changing my mind about some minor decision I don't even remember.  As usual, I had tried the appeal to reason, and just as equally typical, my words were all to no avail. 

In the end, I resorted to that oft used and always hated phrase by both kids and parents: "Because I'm your mother, and God gave you to me to raise.  That's why.  End of discussion."

And there it was--mother, a title I only use for myself when communicating firmness and authority.  It is a title that means no argument, so move along. 

When my children are hurt, I am "mommy."  When I've done something really amazing like transform a closet into a cave for indoor camping, I'm "mom."  But when it's serious time, I'm always "mother."

These self-presented names and titles also differ in my interactions with others beyond my own family.  To someone in a professional setting, I sell myself as "Jennifer Dorhauer" with a handshake.  To my friends, I am just Jennifer.  To the hay customers, I am "Mary and Doug's daughter-in law."  To anyone at my parents' church, I am "John and Karen's daughter."  To my online students, I am "Mrs. Dorhauer."  To my four year olds in Sunday School, I'm "Ms. Jennifer."

In other words, my name changes depending on how I'm trying to present myself to a particular audience.  Interestingly enough, in Scripture, God does the same thing, presenting Himself in different ways throughout different books of the Bible. 

In the book of Isaiah, God presents Himself by one name twenty-seven times--"the Holy One of Israel."  While He most certainly uses this phrase elsewhere in Scripture, He doesn't do so with such great regularity as He does here.

And just like me when I'm referring to myself by different titles, God, too, intends to communicate something through His name choice.  To understand this choice, we first need to understand His audience.  The book of Isaiah is written to His people, Israel, a message to His children who have not heeded His word.  In verse two, He says of the children of Israel that they are "Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have revolted against Me" (Is. 1:2).

Last week's article explored how the Israelites denied both God's authority over them and His providing for them. God further describes how sinful His people have become, saying they are "People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly!  They have abandoned the LORD, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him" (Is. 1:4).

Here, God refers to Himself  as "the Holy One of Israel," the first of twenty-seven times in this book.

The first half of the title--"the Holy One"--is seeking to highlight just how unholy and detestable Israel is in God's sight.  God is choosing this name to hold up their sin next to His holy light, an action that makes their sin appear as dark as it truly is.

In the above passage, God uses the inflammatory words like iniquity, evildoers, corruptly, and despised to describe Israel's sin; notice He doesn't use words like mistake or indiscretion or even life choice.  Instead, His word choice highlights the true nature of sin.

Consider how different this is compared to how we treat sin.  When it is our sin, we try to excuse it away as "not that bad."  Before we know it, our sin is no longer black but merely dark grey.  And if we hold up our sin beside someone else's sin, we might even decide ours is really only off-white or beige.  But in truth, our attempts to rationalize the blackness of our sin away into fifty shades of grey is a lie we tell ourselves. 

All we have to do is hold up the paint chip with our sin on it next to the one depicting God's Holiness, and the black becomes its blackest.

In this way, God continuously gets in the reader's face with just how holy, Holy, HOLY He is until our sin appears as dark as it actually is to God, until we perceive just how abhorrent our sin is to this Holy, pure, spotless God we serve.

A few verses later, God expounds upon the details of Israel's sin: "How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice...But now murderers....Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow's plea come before them" (Is. 1:21-23).

Consider these details in relation to the second half of God's title "of Israel."  Using this reference, God is reminding the children of Israel that they still belong to Him.  Although those in the "faithful city" of Jerusalem mentioned above have now become a "harlot" serving all nature of false gods, God is still the God of Israel.

Even though they have "revolted" against God and refused to acknowledge Him as their provider in verse 2, He is still their God.  Even though He must turn His back on them as He doles out judgment as only a Holy God must do, He is still their God.

It is as if He is begging them to return, reminding them that no matter how dark their sin is before Him, He is still their God who will forgive any who repent and return to Him.

Such is a good lesson for us all to remember. 

Our sin is dark as the darkest night to God.  It is detestable and abhorrent in His sight.  BUT, for those who are His children, He will always be their God, waiting with open arms for them to turn away from the darkness of their sin in repentance and claim the inheritance waiting for them as Sons of the Holy One of Israel.

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