God reveals his name

God becomes more accessible by disclosing his name, writes Cathal Barry

God revealed himself to his people Israel by making his name known to them, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Catechism states that a name “expresses a person's essence and identity and the meaning of this person's life”. “God has a name; he is not an anonymous force,” it says.

To disclose one's name is to make oneself known to others; in a way it is to hand oneself over by becoming accessible, capable of being known more intimately and addressed personally.

God revealed himself progressively and under different names to his people, but the revelation that proved to be the fundamental one for both the Old and the New Covenants, according to Church teaching, was the revelation of the divine name to Moses in the theophany of the burning bush, on the threshold of the Exodus and of the covenant on Sinai.

The Catechism notes that God is the God of the fathers; “the One who had called and guided the patriarchs in their wanderings”. “He is the faithful and compassionate God who remembers them and his promises; he comes to free their descendants from slavery,” it says. “He is the God who, from beyond space and time, can do this and wills to do it, the God who will put his almighty power to work for this plan.”

The book of Exodus states that Moses said to God: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

“God said to Moses: ‘I am who I am.’ This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sentme to you’… this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations."

In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH (“I am he who is”, "I am who am" or "I am who I am"), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is – infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the "hidden God", his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.

God, who reveals his name as "I am", reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them. Faced with God's fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance.