The Strange Name of God

Pentecost 25 Friday

Exodus 3:13-14

“Moses said to God: “Look, when I come to the children Israel and say to them: ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you,’ and they say to me: ‘What is his name?’–what am I to tell them?” God said to Moses: “I will be whom I will be.” And said: “You are to say this to the children Israel: ‘I will be he–he sent me to you.'”””

God himself comes forth and interprets his name; and it is a strange name. He interprets himself and says: “I will be who I will be.” This is his name. It is an opaque expression when he says: “I am who I am” or “will be.” Why is this his name?…No one could have given him this name when we are to interpret God; for there we fail God. He moves with the Word above all creatures that are not God and cannot give eternal life. For there is no one but God alone who works eternally and who says here: “I am he.” No one else can say this because everything perishes. Our whole life is a vagrant, loose possession. To be sure, I can say: “I pass away;” but I cannot say: “I exist being, I neither perish nor waver; I am and remain forever.” By this title, God wrenches our hearts and eyes from all creatures and draws them to himself alone. For God here wants to say: “Nothing on earth shall remain but I. I alone have the being; if you cling to other things, you shall pass away.” Man is strong today but sick tomorrow. I am honored today and in shame tomorrow. Today I am young; tomorrow I am old. Today I am rich, tomorrow poor. This is why God says here: “I am the God to whom you are to cling and not trust in any creature.” This is the First Commandment. Those who hold and interpret it in this way are interpreting it correctly. Reason, however, says: “I cling to this work”– e.g., I have read this many masses, have spent, fasted, prayed, and observed such a hard rule for this many years in the monastery. In other words, reason grasps something that is temporal and transient by which we are to comfort ourselves and so that we become pale as death and exhausted by poverty. Yet we usually think that God is pleased with us when we are successful in life. And hereby the noble, precious name of God must be added to my work: I cling to transient things and let go of him who is imperishable and eternal. This is why God wants to strip me completely lest I trust in my merits, honor, good works, princes or government, or however it may be called, but cling to him alone who is eternal and who says here: “If you cling to me, it will not fail.” Who could have interpreted him if he had not explained himself when he says: “You must cling to me by faith.” If you are stuck in reason, you do not get to God unless you bring him a bunch of good works, crawl to him, and say: “Lord, I have done this and that.” This is how giving God a different name looks like and how we give God’s name to creatures and rely on creatures, although we are to trust in him. This is how you should interpret God’s name.

St. Louis ed., 3:734-736.

This entry was posted in Daily Devotions From the Writings of Martin Luther. Bookmark the permalink.