What evidence of the tension between a Greek understanding of God, and a Hebrew understanding of God

Christians who use the name “Yahweh” may feel that it provides a welcome connection with Christianity’s Jewish roots. Some believe that “Yahweh” is the contemporary Jewish name for God. Actually, however, in Jewish tradition this holiest name of God, out of numinous awe, is never pronounced. . .In this context, to any Jew with even a moderately traditional or religious sensibility, hearing the name spoken aloud (or even seeing it written with vowels as I have dad to do here) is shocking, even blasphemous. Its use in Christian circles, therefore, does not build connection with Judaism, but introduces discord. Therefore I would ask Christian readers to refrain from using “Yahweh” and to encourage others to refrain from it as well.(Lewisn, J QTC Today, Summer 2003, 9)

As leader in your Church community, how would you respond to this request?

Each of us today is speaking about an element of Andre LaCocque’s, The Revelation of Revelations. Shakespeare wrote, “What ‘s in a name?/That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet. Act ii. Sc. 2.

A similar thought applies to the name of God, which is the focus of our attention today. Each of us may have a different name for God, but ultimately no name can completely encompass or describe what is by its nature indescribable. The Jewish tradition of not pronouncing the tetragrammaton in some ways points to this reality. The element that I pulled out of our readings and will comment briefly on is the Hebrew understanding of the name of God as an unfinished process. LaCoque uses the notion of “Eschatology” that is the study or reflection on “end times” to help develop our understanding of the tetragrammaton.

The Hebrew notion of “eschaton” is rooted in the Hebrew worldview. Part of this view is an understanding of history and time that is foreign to modern sensibility. This notion of time sees the future as being behind our back and the past to our front. An analogy helpful in understanding this is that of a boat rowing away from shore. The shore (past) is to the front of the rower, and the bow (future) is to his back. Eschatologically, it recognizes the future, as rooted in the past. Similarily, the tetragrammaton is equally incomplete. While being rooted in the past, (the God of your fathers) it has an incompleteness to it. LaCocque’s uses G.S. Ogden’s discussion of the qal (imperfect) tense of Hebrew verb root hyh, which is most often translated as “to be”. Ogden distinguishes three levels with which ‘hyh’ is used in the bible.

These level are “1. the copulative cf. Exodus 3:12 ‘ehyeh’imkha I shall be with thee, indicating a future setting; 2. as existential: a situation to occur in the future, or that will continue to what it is now, cf. Zech. 14:13: “a great panic tihyeh=shall fall”; (incomplete) 3. a transitional: expecting a future alteration in present circumstances; or frequentative, cf 1 Kings 5:28 yi’hyu=they used to be (by association with other verbs that revert to the simple perfect). LaCoque is in general agreement with Ogden conclusion that hyh is used primarily as a temporal indicator, but that this conclusion is misleading when applied to Ex 3:14. LaCoque understands ehyeh’aser’ehyeh as more than an “overture to the future.” The tetragrammaton also has a existential notion of being, but not being as opposed to non-being but as an active and dynamic presence, like the fire that does not consume the bush.

God is a God of the future, as implied by the imperfect or incompleteness of the tetragrammaton, but God is also a God of the present, a God of action, a God who is and will be active in the history of Israel. Part of the key to understanding this distinction is the use of the relative pronoun, aser(what). “Aser” is relative, according to LaCoque in so far as its content depends on the quality of history that Moses and Israel pour into it(324). This understanding of God, like the eschaton, is paradigmatic. It reveals God as a saviour, who sends Moses to free God’s people. In this way, God is revealed as a promise. At the eschaton, God will be God. In the meantime, God is establishing his reign on earth. For LaCoque incompleteness of this process is symbolized in the incompleteness of the verb ‘ehyeh’aser’eyeh. It is this revelation that makes God’s self revelation so profound.

This tension between the past and the future is consistent with the dual nature of God as both the known and the unknown, the experienced and the hoped for. According to LaCoque, The Name of God is dialectical. The name is a blessing and curse, beneficent and maleficent. The revelation of the name is rooted in an event and a place. As such, the recognition of the name comes from an encounter with God’s self-manifestation. This self-manifestation is mediated through Moses, who reveals this same name to Israel. The identity-formula ‘ehyeh’aser’ehyeh thus refers to not only God’s revelation to Moses, but God, Moses and Israel’s shared history.

In what might be describe as a throw away line, LaCoque states that: consequently, most philosophical speculations on the Divine are in need of a radical revision. The philosophical concepts of transcendence, omnipotence, infinitude must be considered sub specie historiae(under the view of history, story, narrative), instead of sub specie aeternitaitis et absolute.(under the view of forever and complete) God’s omnipotence is more the expression of Israel’s prayer, hope, faith, and love than a objective statement of fact. So are also transcendence and eternity or any other divine “attribute”(324).

Philosophically rethinking these speculation or concepts points to an ongoing tension in Christianity between a Greek understanding of God, (immutable and omnipotent, impersonal and transcendent) and a Hebrew understanding of God (changing, vulnerable, affected, repentant, lamenting and immanent). It is somewhere within this tension that the mystery of God is revealed.

As stated before, the relationship between God, Moses and Israel is not static, as in a God of the past, nor is it solely directed toward the future. This relationship, like our boat rowing away from shore, exists in the now, as it moves toward the future, guided by the past.