It’s easier for me to be thankful for some of God’s names and attributes more than others. It’s effortless for me to rejoice in God’s attributes of love and faithfulness. I savor His forgiveness and provision. It’s easy for me to be thankful He is my Savior and Healer.
However, I don’t delight as easily in some of God’s other characteristics. How can I understand a God whose nature is incomprehensible? Where is the joy in descriptions of God the Father as a Consuming Fire and Jesus as a Man of Sorrows? And I struggle to be thankful that God is a holy and jealous God.
All That He Is
But being selective about which names and attributes we praise God for produces a problem. In effect, we create our own god by worshiping the attributes we want Him to have instead of worshiping all that He is.
For example, some focus only on God’s characteristics of love and mercy. They don’t want to think about His holiness, righteousness, and judgment. Problem is, they end up with an anything-goes god who tolerates sin.
Others may focus on God’s holiness and judgment to the exclusion of all His other characteristics. They create a fire-and-brimstone god who is unloving, unmerciful, and uncompassionate.
God is love and He is holy. He is merciful and He is just. He is righteous and He is compassionate. He is all these things and more. To truly know Him, we must learn all that He is—not just a few characteristics that appeal to who we want Him to be.
Think of the facets of a diamond that combine to reflect its brilliance. The names and attributes of God combine in a similar way to reveal the transcendence of His nature and the glory of His ways.
So, let’s spend a few minutes addressing several names and attributes that don’t seem to generate as much of our attention . . .
I decided to look in my Bible for every place where God says “I AM.” Before I show you what I found, I want to warn you that it’s a long and impressive list. If you’re like me, you have a tendency to gloss over information when it comes to you in bulk, but let me encourage you to take your time. Read and re-read. Think about all the things God says about himself with the simple introduction, “I AM.”
I AM . . . your shield (Gen. 15:1-3).
I AM . . . God Almighty (Gen. 17:1, 35:11).
I AM . . . compassionate (Ex. 22:27).
I AM . . . holy (Lev. 11:44).
I AM . . . your portion and your inheritance (Num. 18:20).
I AM . . . your salvation (Ps. 35:3).
I AM . . . with you (Isa. 41:10, 43:5, Jer. 1:19,15:20, Hag. 1:13, 2:4, Matt. 28:20).
I AM . . . the Lord, besides me there is no salvation (Isa. 43:11).
I AM . . . the first and the last (Isa. 44:6, Rev. 1:17).
I AM . . . he who comforts (Isa. 5:12).
I AM . . . merciful (Jer. 3:12).
I AM . . . a father (Jer. 31:9).
I AM . . . their inheritance (Ezek. 44:28).
I AM . . . gentle and lowly of heart (Matt. 11:29).
I AM . . . the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Matt. 22:32).
I AM . . . the Christ (Mark 14:61-63).
I AM . . . the bread of life (John 6:48).
I AM . . . the light of the world (John 8:12).
I AM . . . not of this world (John 8:24).
I AM . . . the Good Shepherd (John 10:1).
I AM . . . the door (John 10:9).
I AM . . . the son of God (John 10:36).
I AM . . . the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).
I AM . . . teacher and lord (John 13:13).
I AM . . . the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:1).
I AM . . . the true vine (John 15:1).
I AM . . . the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8).
I AM . . . alive forevermore (Rev. 1:18).
I AM . . . coming soon (Rev. 3:11).
I AM . . . the bright morning star (Rev. 22:16).
I AM . . . the LORD your God (this one is stated so many times throughout the Bible that I lost count).
An impressive list, isn’t it?
God called Moses to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh release God’s people from slavery. Moses wrestles with the idea of such a monumental task and finally asks, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13).
Before Moses goes to the most powerful man in the world, he wants to know the name of the God who sends him. Seems reasonable to me.
God answers Moses’ question this way, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).
Then, He repeats Himself, but doesn’t offer Moses much clarity.
“And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you'” (Ex. 3:14).
There isn’t an English teacher in the world that wouldn’t mark all over that sentence with her red pen.
Imagine the same sentence in a different context. You are introduced to a new visitor at church. You say, “Hi, my name is Erin. What’s your name?”
“I am . . . ” is their reply.
I am who? I am what? Simply leaving it at “I am” seems like bad grammar and bad manners.
But that’s what God said when Moses asked His name.
“I AM WHO I AM.” “I AM has sent me.”
Don’t you imagine that Moses was perched on the very edge of his seat? Waiting for more information. He knew he would be pressed by Pharaoh and by the people he was called to free for more information. I am who? I am what? But “I AM” seemed to be all the information God was going to give at that moment.
Fortunately for all of us, it’s not all He ever said on the subject.
So why didn’t God just dictate it to Moses so that Moses could pass it along to Pharaoh?
Why leave the dots unconnected?
Because we learn the names of God best when we see for ourselves who He is, not when we simply hear about Him.
The answer to Moses’ question, “What is his name?” would be given to Pharaoh soon enough. The purpose of the plagues God sent upon Egypt was to put the power and character of God on full display.
Sooner or later, we all mumble Moses’ question under our breath, “Who are you, God?” We follow it up with “How will you prove who you are in my life?” We’ve got the benefit of a hard copy of His answer in the Word. From Genesis to Revelation the Lord speaks often of who He is. But the proof is also in the pudding, isn’t it? If you will take a minute to reflect on your own life you will see that His descriptions of Himself are spot on. I know He’s been everything on that list in my own life (compassionate, salvation, merciful . . . ) Who has He been in yours?
Certainly, the qualities of God are vast and impressive, but they become even more so when we get serious about who we really are.
Who are you?
It’s a simple question that almost always has a complex answer. If I asked you, “Who are you?” I bet you’d start with the good stuff (we all do). You might tell me about your beautiful family or your great job or all the ways you volunteer in your church or community. We like to polish our identity up to a high shine, but that’s not the whole story is it?
David has a way of writing with a brand of brutal honesty that I am drawn to in the Psalms. He finishes the sentence I am . . . in a way that checks my spirit. Here’s what he wrote.
I am . . . fleeting (Ps. 39:4).
I am . . . poor and needy (Ps. 86:1; 109:22).
I am . . . languishing (Ps. 6:2).
I am . . . lonely and afflicted (Ps. 25:16).
I am . . . afraid (Ps. 56:3).
I am . . . afflicted and in pain (Ps. 69:29).
I am . . . helpless (Ps. 88:15).
Are you ready for a confession? I am all of those things, too. As important as my life seems to me, the Bible describes it like a vapor (James 4:14). That’s what David meant when he called himself “fleeting.” I often find myself needy, lonely, afraid, and in pain, just like David did. I am helpless in the face of most of the problems I face. I can’t change my own heart, mold myself into Christ’s image, or keep all that scares me at bay.
While the news about who we are at our core is bad, the news about who God is couldn’t get any better.
And that’s not the worst of it. In Psalm 51:4, David described a personal attribute that I’d like to gloss over.
I am a sinner
Paul answered the “I am . . .” question by describing himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Some days it feels like I’m giving him a run for his money.
When we line the reality of who we are with the beauty of who God is, our heart can choose from one of two options.
- We can wilt under the weight of our failings, and settle in with the feeling that we will never measure up.
- We can let the beauty of the gospel—that a God so big and powerful and good would extend grace and love toward us despite the fact that we are so desperately undeserving—make up for our slack. We can spend our days in gratitude instead of defeat because God is big, and we are small, and He loves us anyway.
From time to time it does us good to peel back the good stuff of who we are and smell the gunk underneath. But don’t dwell there. While the news about who we are at our core is bad, the news about who God is even better.
In light of what God’s done for you, how would you finish the sentence “I am . . .”?
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