God Incognito

For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness.

--Justin Martyr

In Fingerpainting on the Moon, Peter Levitt notes that according to the Hindu Vedas the ancient Sanskrit language (progenitor of all Indo-European languages) came into being when each object first made its sound known to humans.  That sound then became the object's name. 

The creation story in Genesis comes at the origin of languages from a somewhat different angle.  The Lord brings all the creatures to the man to be named, with two notable exceptions.  The Lord names the man and remains nameless himself.  Only much later in the story does God reveal his name to Moses at Sinai, and then only with a heavy proscription against profaning it. 

There is nothing in Scripture that expressly forbids people from pronouncing God's name or writing it down.  However, Jewish custom has long avoided doing either -- so much so that no one is quite sure now how to pronounce the name revealed to Moses.  God's name was recorded in Hebrew without the vowels (transliterated as YHWH) and is therefore subject to various readings (Yahweh or Jehovah).  By contrast, Hindus believe there are salutary effects in uttering the sacred name of God, and custom even encourages parents to give God's name to their children.

There is much to be said for a God who remains nameless.  To utter the name of a thing is to make it an object of our awareness.  As long as God is objectified, he remains apart from ourselves.  Even Martin Buber's phrase, "I and Thou," which describes the intimate relationship between oneself and God, creates a separation.  Better perhaps not to name God at all, until we truly understand that our being and God's sacred name are expressed exactly the same way: I AM.

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