Saturday, November 19, 2005

I AM

After his extraordinary encounter with God in the burning bush, Moses asked God his name, for God was sending Moses to Pharaoh to liberate his people. “Say this to the people of Israel,” God told him, “I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). This divine name has been used by Jesus on several occasions in the Gospels. He has not only been sent by God to save his people, but is the eternal Son of God Himself, and as such bears the divine name. This name is inscribed in Greek letters in the halo of icons of Christ. Therefore in the Byzantine Offices, Christ is sometimes called “He who is. (The literal translation of the name of God is more dynamic: “the-being-one”)

The very fact that God is should be a great consolation to us in all our struggles, fears, and needs. For if God is, if God is God, then He has to be all that He says He is, and we can trust Him completely. This is the same assurance that Christ gave to his disciples when they were panicking in the midst of a storm on the sea. He came walking to them across the water—He whose Spirit hovered over the waters of the primordial chaos, and through whom all things were made (Genesis 1:2; John 1:3).

What did Jesus say to calm their fears? “Take heart; I AM; have no fear” (Matthew 14:27). Most translations render ego eimi as “It is I.” Even though that can work here, it is not a literal translation and loses the force of the divine name. He might well have used another of his names at this time, Emmanuel (“God with us”), for in Him God was with them on the raging waters.

Peter, still not over his fear, boldly attempted a test and asked Jesus to prove Himself by enabling Peter also to walk on the water. Humble as always, Jesus simply invited him, and Peter began to walk on the water. Quite a marvelous feat, yet his old fears returned. He took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the wind and the waves (and probably reproached himself: who do you think you are? You can’t walk on water!). Thus he lost courage and began to sink. Jesus proved Himself once again by saving Peter from the waves. “Jesus” means “the Lord is Savior,” so his divine “I AM” was vindicated.

We are going to find ourselves (as we surely already have) in times of turmoil, fear, doubt, and pain. It is important that we hear the voice of Christ calling to us over the troubled waters. “I AM,” He says to us, “It is I; I am here.” Therefore we can take heart and have no fear. He may not immediately calm the storm, and we may even find ourselves sinking because of our feeble faith, but He will always be the Savior—He will not let us drown in the sea of our sorrows and tribulations. But we have to keep our eyes fixed on Him, keep our hope and trust in Him. It is so easy to look at the wind and waves and be afraid, and so hard to set aside our own reasoning and calculations in order to trust the Lord in spite of adverse conditions and the fears they generate. But this is what He-who-is asks of us, because He knows how he plans to help and save us.

As the world seems to move farther from belief and trust in God the Creator and Savior, and puts its confidence in technology and other human achievements and plans, we have to reaffirm that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus (Acts 4:12). We are all finite, contingent beings who can’t even row our way out of a little squall. God is “The-Being-One,” the everlasting Lord who holds us in the palm of his hand. As He says “I AM” to declare his divinity, we can only say “I am not” to declare our radical dependence upon Him for our very existence. Yet this is our joy and hope, for I AM wishes to take us where He is, so that we can share the glory of God that was before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).

Take heart, then; do not fear. God is with you and loves you and is preparing eternal joy for you. I know, because I AM sent me to tell you…