Thursday, January 24, 2013

It Depends What the Meaning of “I Am Who I Am” Is

Continuing my train of thought in the previous post, it is possible to turn everything in Scripture into code for inner, psychological work.

I know because I tried to do so for years. I was essentially a gnostic. The Scriptures, according to the point of view I assumed, can only be understood by the initiate, the one keyed in to some sort of “esoteric” understanding.

When God says to Moses, “I am who I am” (YHWH), the religious person understands this simply, as God telling Moses his name.

The gnostic (and I am using the term loosely) turns the whole thing into a psychology lecture to spiritualists: “God” in quotation marks is the human I, fully developed and “conscious” to itself.

Be fully that. Be yourself. Just do it.

Isn’t it obvious that this is what the writer of Exodus means? God says to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God=I am. God is the real I. I am God.


Well, maybe.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has it differently. Catholics believe in God, a God so real and personal that He can “reveal his name” to Moses, as he one day will reveal Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This is a different point of view than the one I tried on during my twenties and thirties—until I came to a dead end—groping around in the mystery of myself and finding . . . nothing.

The CCC is beautiful, poetic, and moving to me today:

“God revealed himself to his people Israel by making his name known to them. A name expresses a person’s essence and identity and the meaning of this person’s life. God has a name; he is not an anonymous force.” (paragraph 203)

“God calls Moses from the midst of a bush that burns without being consumed. . . . He is the God who, from beyond space and time, can do this and wills to do it, the God who will put his almighty power to work for [His] plan.” (205)

The CCC tells us to stop a while before facilely translating the Mystery into “self-mastery”: “[The] divine name [YHWH] is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is—infinitely above everything that we can understand or say . . . ” (206)

To stop in front of this mystery, however, is humbling, and we don’t like that:

“Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance. Before the burning bush, Moses takes of his sandals and veils his face in the presence of God’s holiness. . . . Isaiah cries out: ‘Woe is me! I am lost . . . ’”

The entire drama of God and Moses and the burning bush is far more thrilling and beautiful than any psychology lecture, no matter how clever or esoteric.

And then comes Jesus Christ, who has the same name:

“When you have lifted up the Son of man,” He said, “then you will realize that ‘I Am.’” (211)

The CCC closes out its discussion of the Divine Name this way:

“The revelation of the ineffable name ‘I am who Am’ contains then the truth that God alone IS. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and following it the Church’s Tradition, understood the divine name in this sense: God [not the human I] is the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end. All creatures receive all that they are and have from him; but he alone is his very being, and he is of himself everything that he is.” (213)

1 comment:

  1. I never considered that "I Am Who Am" would have me as God. But I can construed it so:
    "I Am, and I Am Who can make you like unto Me. For, with Me, nothing is impossible. And, though you cannot be Me Who art your God, I can make you like Me Who Am Love Myself." Or, simply . . .

    "Come, follow Me"

    Warren Jewell


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