“God becomes and God un-becomes.”
“I pray God to rid me of God.”
– Meister Eckhart
“God is only our name for it, and the closer we get to it, the more it ceases to be God.”
– John O’Donohue restating Meister Eckhart’s words
By speaking “God”, we speak less of and less than God. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a words guy and think names are SUPER important. What is more, I’m crazy about Jesus, think we have a good relationship, and believe the Divine is very relational and knowable … AND as the above quotes and my statement indicate, the instant we use a name or word for God we’ve categorized the uncategorizeable, we’ve defined the undefinable, and put words to the Being who’s beyond words.
Let me quickly caveat this by noting we frequently need to and often can’t help but use names and categories for God, they’re IMMENSELY helpful for relating to the Divine after all. With that in mind, I’d say the Creator is both easily knowable AND infinitely knowable.
Meister Eckhart famously prayed for “God to rid me of God,” because he wanted to know the Divine in an ever deeper fashion. So, he asked the Creator to continuously divest him of his notions about the Divine, because the mystic understood the ways our mortal minds comprehend God ALWAYS fall short of Who God truly is. Thus, in a never-ending cycle of rich relationship, Eckhart asked our Source to free him from his past conceptions of God, so he could meet God in a deeper and truer fashion … over and over again.
Richard Rohr talks about how the names and titles we use for the Divine are really and truly only metaphors. When we realize, as many people smarter than me say, “God” is the ground of all being and is the source/nature of ultimate reality, what else could be true? While some metaphors are, of course, better than others, how could ANY word, phrase, paragraph, or even book come close to describing the Creator of you and I, the earth, the sun, love, light, water, oceans, and TRILLIONS of stars?
(This is my wife and I at our big wedding ceremony, we called it Wedding 2.0. Marriage and weddings are really great and powerful metaphors for the actions of God and the Divine’s relationship toward us)
This brings me to Jesus. As I’ve come to know God, Jesus is the full and clear revelation of the Divine. What this means for me is when I want to relate to the Creator or have an image of what the Divine looks like, I look to Jesus. BUT, you might ask, by naming God “Jesus” aren’t you defining the undefinable and categorizing the uncategorizable? Aren’t you contradicting what you just said? Yes and no … kind of. 🙂
What I mean is, to me Jesus captures the both/and nature of God, love, reality, and many other mysteries. God is relational and needs a “face” for us to commune with … AND God is beyond definition, naming, and categorization … AND Jesus embodies and captures both these Truths, much in the same way the Christ is both fully human and fully Divine.
Now we get to the juicy part. 🙂 Did you know Jesus’ actual name was Joshua? I learned this from our Messianic Jew brothers and sisters. Jesus was Jewish and the language of Judaism was Hebrew. Jesus’ name in the native tongue, then, was Yeshua. When you translate Yeshua directly into English we get Joshua. So, why do we call the Christ “Jesus” then? Well, when you translate Yeshua into Latin you get Iēsous, and when you translate that into English you get Jesus. In short, we name Jesus “Jesus” because it’s the translation of a translation (note, I think we ended up there because under the influence of the Roman Empire, Latin became the primary language of the early Church).
What’s Jesus’ real name being Joshua have to do with the price of tea in China? Great question! The first point I’d like to draw us back to is what I kicked the blog off with. The truth that we have the face of God’s (i.e. Jesus) name wrong further illustrates the how the Divine is a Mystery Who is both beyond knowing AND totally and forever knowable.
This brings me to a second really cool point that also has the power to change our lives. Regardless of whether a person believes in God or not, what we believe to be the nature of the Divine and/or reality and/or how the world works and/or life WILL form WHO we become. If we think God is angry, reality is fearful, and/or life is scary, we will become insecure, afraid, stingy, and so on. If we think the Divine is violent, reality is unsafe, and/or life is traumatic, we will become violent, guarded, closed-off, and so on. Conversely, WHEN we believe God is good, reality is Love, and/or life is beautiful (warts and all), we will become loving, kind, peaceful, and joyful.
This is another BIG reason why I think it’s essential we remember/learn Jesus’ actual name was Joshua. I’ll lead by giving props to Greg Boyd for being the first person I’ve heard who compared Jesus/Joshua to the Joshua we find in the Old Testament (OT). While Moses famously led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt when God freed them, the Joshua of the OT was the one who later led them into the Promised Land (i.e. Israel).
Yeshua, or Joshua, means “to rescue”, “to deliver”, or “to save”, with the underlying understanding it is God doing the saving. Remembering we are ALL formed in the image of Who we understand the Divine to be and/or how reality works and/or the nature of life, the answer to how God acts and how God rescues and saves people becomes VITAL.
To make a long story short, in the Old Testament before there was an Israel the Israelites (the Hebrews at that point) were enslaved by the Egyptians for 400+ years. God then worked through Moses to free them and lead them to the Promised Land (Israel). The journey took forty years, and just as they were about to enter the land Moses died. At that point, Joshua took the helm and led the Hebrews into the land God had promised would be theirs.
As you might imagine, though, various other tribes already occupied what’s now called Israel. At this point I’ll remind you “Joshua”, or Yeshua, effectively means God saves/rescues/delivers, and the culmination of God’s rescue of the Israelites from Egypt was to lead them into the Promised Land. In short, Joshua then proceeded to lead the Hebrews on a holy war. Salvation and deliverance from the Old Testament’s Joshua, thus, came via violence, killing of innocents, enslavement, and destruction.
3,000’ish years later we’re not much different. We STILL get our way via wars and other forms of violence. We’re STILL formed in the image of the “god” the OT Joshua leads us to believe is real and true. The Jesus Joshua, though, shows us Someone different, Someone good, Someone beautiful.
Jesus, or the New Testament Joshua who truthfully reveals what God looks like and how the Divine saves, shows us a picture VERY different from the OT Joshua. Jesus Joshua reveals God is nonviolent and saves by GIVING life for the sake of others, as opposed to TAKING life from others. Don’t believe me? Read the Gospels. Read the New Testament. Note how widespread and prevalent Jesus’ call to love and care for EVERYONE, including enemies is. Note how Jesus repeatedly says violence has no part in the Reign of God and how people who employ violence will be repaid with violence (not by God, but by others).
Loving our Jewish sisters and brothers I’d like to quickly note there’s lots of times the Old Testament points to a Jesus’ looking God (i.e. one very different from a God who “saves” like that Joshua). While violence creates borders (geographic, relational, and otherwise), God repeatedly tells the Israelites the Divine love, favor, and joy knows no borders, has no boundaries, and includes even their ENEMIES. For instance in Amos 9.7 the Jews are told God delivered some of their most hated enemies from slavery, JUST as they were freed from Egypt.
Now, what do you think of when you hear “violence”? I’m willing to bet it’s physical and likely doesn’t relate to you. Is that a good guess? So, let’s make this blog applicable and hopefully transformative, shall we?
While violence doesn’t show up for most of us in the West physically, I think we can easily and freely be vicious with our words, thoughts, and acts in more relational, emotional, and spiritual ways. For instance, I don’t know about you, but I often beat myself up over misspoken words, untaken acts of kindness, angry words, negative thoughts, stress, and so on. We often and easily start our days with some form of this narrative: I have too much to do today and I’m NOT enough. This is violence pure and simple, and I think the more we follow and imitate Jesus Joshua, the less we’ll behave this way.
Again, I don’t know about you, but I then take this internal violence and make it external. I exclude people different from me, I ostracize those who hurt me or people close to me, I minimize people with beliefs and views that diverge from mine, I don’t seek to understand people unlike me, and so on. THESE are the ways violence shows up in my life when I’m following the Joshua of the OT and thinking that’s how God acts, as opposed to the Jesus Joshua.
Once again, I’m human and I’m a mixture of goodness and … umm less than goodness. 🙂 AND for many, many years I believed the ways of the OT Joshua is what God looked like, violence was the nature of reality, and fear was the currency of life. YET, Jesus Joshua is RADICALLY changing my life and showing me nonviolence, peace, love, and understanding are truly how God behaves, how reality operates, and are the juice of life.
What do you think about my thoughts on life, God, and reality? What do you make of my conclusions? I believe realizing Jesus’ actual name was Joshua helps us realize God is beyond naming, is totally knowable, and is nonviolent, loving, peaceful, and SAFE. This is changing my life and I hope it does the same for you!
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Grace and peace,