In the scriptures, we find lots of names for God. There a few reasons why that is. Some of them emphasize different characteristics of God. Some of them come from different time periods. Some of them come from cultural ideas of what a god should be.
Here are a few examples:
- Elohim—this is the first name of God, found in the opening story of Genesis. It’s literal translation from Hebrew is the noun “gods” but we find it as the first way people speak of this divine being in the bible.
- YHWH—This is actually God’s name. It is how God introduces Godself when asked for a name (in Exodus). It appears to be some unknown form of the Hebrew verb “to be” in Hebrew (kind of like if English had a name “IsWasWill”). Some English speakers pronounce it “Yahweh.” In Latin, it is translated Jehovah.
- Adonai—In Judaism, God’s name (YHWH) is too sacred to say aloud. So, in place of the name, they will often say “Adonai” which was a term from slavery that meant “Master.” It later gets translates to English as “Lord.”
- Ha Shem—This is another substitution for God’s name. It literally means “the name” and has the context of “The name that is too sacred to speak.”
- G-d—Christians don’t really have this practice of not speaking God’s name, but this device of writing God as “G-d” is sometimes done to pay tribute to the belief that God’s name is sacred; so even if we call God “God”, we can still acknowledge that any name of G-d is special.
- El Shaddai—Some traditions, before they learned that God had a name, used the name El Shaddai, which is normally translated “The Almighty” (although some new Hebrew scholarship is suggesting it could also be translated “The Maternal.”)
- El Roy—Often forgotten, Hagar (Abraham’s mistress) gives God this name in Genesis when she and her son are about to die in the desert. She notices that God hears her son crying and responds to that cry. So she gives God the name El Roy, “The one who hears.”
There are many more names for God found in the Bible, including El Elyon (“Most High One”), El Olam (“Everlasting One”), Qanna (“Jealousy”), Abba (“Father”), and many, many others.
This important lesson shows that throughout history, people have experienced God differently. Yet in the ancient traditions, these differences have to come together and coexist. Even if we all believe in the same God, we may not know God in the exact same way. It would be kind of boring if God was the one-dimensional character; but this God is apparently creative enough to meet the diverse nature of peoples, societies, and cultures in lots of different ways.
May we find new and creative ways to speak of God, to see God, and to show God’s love in our world. Amen.