Names are important. One indication of this is how most parents spend a great deal of time trying to decide what to name each of their children. Names are also necessary. We need them to identify ourselves and others. They become vital in our relationships with one another. Everyone realizes this. What many don’t realize is that in the Bible one’s name implied much more than it does today. In biblical thought one’s name spoke of one’s character or personality. One’s name truly meant something. In fact, if a person’s character changed his or her name might be changed as well. A classic example from the Hebrew Scriptures is Jacob. After his wrestling match with the messenger of God he received the new name, Israel. (Genesis 32:28)
There are many names for God throughout the Scriptures. Often this goes left unnoticed because our English translations simply render the various names, “God.” The different names for God, however, are very important for, as already noted, in biblical thought they conveyed God’s character. Much is revealed about who God is simply by paying attention to the various names attributed to Him throughout the Scriptures.
In the very first verse of the Bible we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) A more literal reading would be “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.” This is the name for God that is used here. This particular name goes a long way back and was used by pagans prior to being adopted by the Hebrews. It referred to one who was chief among the gods. Elohim was understood to be a deity of great power, as well as king and judge. He was also viewed as one who was merciful and gracious.
Understanding a bit of this background adds meaning to the Creation story. It gives us a better grasp of the Who behind Creation. The One who made the heavens and the earth was/is the supreme God. God’s great power and sovereignty are underscored by the biblical insistence that Elohim spoke the world into being. Just as important to me, if not more so, is the affirmation that the One who created the world is merciful and gracious. Throughout the Creation story in Genesis one (where the name Elohim appears 26 times) we are told that what God made was deemed “good.” Creation is, in fact, “good” because behind it stands One who is also good, merciful and gracious. It is our anthropocentric tendency that makes us think we determine what is good or not. When it comes to Creation, however, we do not get to make the call. It has already been made. Creation is good because Elohim has declared it to be.
I truly believe that a proper understanding of Creation is necessary for a healthy world view. Understanding the earth’s divine origin affects how we look at ourselves. Because God created the world we know that life has purpose and meaning. We are not here by accident. Understanding the earth’s divine origin should also help remind us of our proper relationship to the earth. First, it will reveal that we do not own the earth, God does. Psalm 24:1 insists that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” In the very next verse the Psalmist explains why the earth is the Lord’s: “for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Second, we are told in Genesis 2:15 that the first humans were placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it.” This clearly reveals that one of God’s intentions for us is to be responsible stewards of the good earth He created. Knowing this should definitely affect how we live our lives.
I’m not sure I could emphasize enough the importance of the doctrine of Creation. What it says about God and about us is vital to our existence. I encourage you in the days ahead to spend some time reflecting on your own understanding of Creation and on the One who was gracious and merciful enough to share it with us.
(All of the images used today were taken at Acadia National Park in Maine.)