Moses encountered God at the burning bush, and the Lord revealed His own name. The tetragrammaton. A word which pious Jews will not pronounce. Obscure ancient Hebrew, with a practically indecipherable meaning. God’s ancient name…how do we put it in Latin? Ipsum esse per se subsistens. In English? He Who Is. Of old, God declared His name: “I am Who am.”
Now, if anyone else said something like this, we might wonder about his or her social skills. “Hi. Nice to meet you, I’m Father Mark. And you are?” “I am Who am!” “Okay…”
But God rightly taught Moses a very important truth by saying this incomprehensible name. We cannot comprehend God. We cannot claim to know the ‘god-ness’ of God. He is He Who is. Which makes exactly as much–and as little—sense to us as it should.
Who are we to demand more information from the One Who made us out of nothing? After all, if He were not Who He is, we wouldn’t be who we are. We wouldn’t exist, if God did not freely give us existence. There wouldn’t be any air, much less trees, and the earth, and milkshakes and snow and stuff. God is Who He is, namely He Who is. And comprehensible things, like chickens and hamburgers, can and do exist because God the incomprehensible gives life and being to everything that exists and lives.
The obscurity and incomprehensibility of the name God gave to Moses confirms the wisdom of the religious skeptic, the agnostic. The one who doubts human assertions about God. The one who doubts pagan charlatans, soothsayers, snake-oil salesmen, and all the other irrational frauds who spout endless nonsense, claiming to have a divine mandate to do so. Teaching us to make deals with the Almighty, or even play little tricks on Him. So that I can get rich or healed or find a new boyfriend or girlfriend—all through my astute negotiations with the Lord.
To all the mega-church prattle about getting rich quick through faith healings and emotional exuberance, the religious skeptic or agnostic responds: Why should anyone believe any of that? Why should anyone believe a single thing Pastor Paula White says? How can anyone claim to know so much penny-ante trivia about the great and majestic God? Like that if you give somebody a high-five at the right moment during a praise song, you’ll then certainly become the president of your own company? Please! says the skeptic. Give the unknown God a little more respect than to think He can be manipulated to conform to our own selfish dreams!
When God said, My name is Yahweh, He meant: Don’t claim to know what you don’t know about Me. If you think I make sense to your small-time mind, you’re on the wrong track.
God makes perfect sense to the holy angels. But we human beings don’t have the intellectual wattage to grasp just how much God makes sense. God makes so much sense that He makes the things that make sense to us seem like they don’t make any sense at all. Remember: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, those who mourn, the meek, and the persecuted.
Now, if God had stopped speaking to mankind after He told Moses His ineffable name, then every intellectually honest person would have to be an agnostic. We would have to regard religion skeptically. We would hesitate to accept anyone’s claims about the unknowable God. We would distrust all the pagan priests and fortune tellers and tea-leaf readers of this world.
But the unknowable God did not stop teaching us about Himself after answering Moses’ question about His name. To the contrary, that episode at the burning bush was just the beginning.
The ancient Israelites who followed Moses held fast to their faith in the unknowable, transcendent God. And they did what honest agnostics must do: They waited for a moment when the Unknown might make Himself more known. No honest agnostic can deny to God the prerogative to reveal Himself if He so chooses, when He chooses, in the way He chooses.
So the Israelites waited, eschewing the pagan nonsense of their worldly neighbors. And then God did what no one expected. He Personally became a human being. He Who is is a man, born of a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, of Nazareth in Galilee, whom the magi visited in Bethlehem. The Unknown made Himself known by becoming Jesus.
Consistent agnosticism requires a lot of intellectual discipline. But believing in the Incarnation requires much, much more. We believe in the God-man. If it hadn’t happened, we’d be agnostics and skeptics. But it did happen. God revealed His own divine light, a light brighter than ten million gazillion suns. And that light shines on the face of Jesus. That light shines through Jesus’ eyes.
God has eyes and hands and feet. God has what we have—all of it, except sin. God could have continued to dwell in mysterious obscurity, remaining the ineffable “He Who is” forever. But He chose to become a child, a boy, a carpenter, a rabbi, an innocent man wrongly condemned, a victim of cruel crucifixion, a dead man, and a man who rose from the dead.
The unknowable God reveals Himself. So the agnostic discovers true knowledge of God. The skeptic discovers something to believe in.
We don’t believe in empty promises. We believe in Jesus, and His promises. God became the son of a pauper couple, Who took up His bitter cross, because His kingdom is not of this world. Nothing could be more intellectually demanding than believing in this incarnate God. Which, to any true skeptic, makes it all the more certain that it’s absolutely true.