l Uncommon Worship Study l Worship Study l Worship Language Study l Theology of Worship l Worship Perspectives l Worship Songs l About Us l Support Services/Resources l DISCiple Explained l Contact Us
The Face of the Trinity
The Trinitarian Essential for the Whole of God and Life
Chapter 2 The Name of God
If they ask me, ‘What is God’s name?’ what shall I say to them?
Is there theological continuity between the God of Israel and the Christian God? There is a prevailing assumption that the God of the First (Old) Testament continues into and throughout the Second (New) Testament. This continuity, however, depends on the name that each sector uses for God. If that name is given directly or indirectly to God by each (or at least one) of them, then there is discontinuity between their Gods—even if the name given identifies the same God, as discussed in chapter one about God’s identity. The continuity of God exists only when and where the name of God is the one given directly by God and only by God. Thus, any assumption of continuity in our theology and practice should always be challenged, and this includes even in our doxology.
The psalmist declares “Sing the glory of his name” (Ps 66:1). This glory, however, is not what we ascribe to God, even in glowing and well-meaning terms. Rather this glory distinguishes only what is revealed by and in God’s name; and therefore glory does not emerge without the name God gave. Otherwise our doxology may not be worshiping the same God.
God’s name needs clarification and/or correction in our trinitarian theological task. For there to be continuity in the theology and practice of God’s people, it must be defined and determined by the name that God gave to reveal who, what and how God is, and thereby to distinguish the whole of God beyond our comparative terms. If not, there can only be discontinuity in our theology and practice. It is imperative, then, for us to know the name of our God and to understand the full meaning of God’s name, not only for continuity in our theology and practice but most importantly for our theology and practice to unfold with wholeness in likeness of the whole of God—therefore unequivocally our relational imperative.
Is more of an issue being made about God’s name than warrants our concern? Unlike Abraham’s experiences with the LORD’s appearances clearly defined to him (Gen 12:1,7, 17:1; 18:1), Jacob’s experience was more ambiguous. When Jacob wrestled with the divine figure, he inquired “Please tell me your name” (Gen 32:24-30). Jacob pursued more than information but the clarity needed to understand the significance of whom he struggled with; and that significance was vested in the person’s name. Thus, Jacob experienced “face to face” the monotheistic name of his God. To fast-forward for a moment, this significance was further pursued by Paul with the same monotheistic lens, who inquired in a pivotal face-to-face encounter: “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). Both their experiences illuminate the face-to-face significance vested in the name of God.
When we think of personal names, we generally associate a specific name with a specific person. Yet, what that name tells us about the person can be ambiguous or have clarity, may signify simply some identity marker or have deeper significance of the person. In the modern Western world, personal names have lost their significance for understanding persons beyond just an identity marker. While the Majority World may give more significance to personal names (e.g. family origin, tradition and loyalty), its significance likely may not go any deeper to provide clarity about the whole person. In other words, names are often confused with titles and titles are often mistaken for names.
In the ancient world, the name (Heb. shem, Gk. onoma) and the person were inseparable. Name was used as a shorthand substitute or representative of the person, which could include the person’s character. That means a name could also come with a reputation. When a name lacks clarity or is ambiguous about the person, most often it has been reduced to merely a title and thus does not tell us of much significance about the person—perhaps their reputation or something about their character but nothing further and deeper.
Titles are quantitative identity markers of persons from outer in, which do not provide any qualitative clarity of their persons from inner out. That is, titles are shallow indicators that may identify a person but do not provide the significance of the person composing their full identity. Consequently, titles cannot be representative of the significance of a person, nor should they be used as a shorthand substitute of the whole person. In the comparative process of personal relations, it is vital to make a clear distinction between name and titles. Jacob did not want just a title of his God, he only pursued the name. When names are confused with titles, what emerges is a counter-relational reduction in comparative personal relations. For example, in the early history of humankind a concerted effort was made for globalization in the city of Babel in order to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:1-9). In spite of their attempt for human unification, the name they sought was really only a reputation in comparative relations from outer in and thus that didn’t have the significance of wholeness from inner out. Accordingly, any resulting so-called unity would have been counter-relational—an illusion and simulation that God did not allow to continue. Their effort influenced by reductionism evidenced confusing name with title, which even if achieved would have lacked substantive significance, though certainly a global reputation can have far-reaching appeal and influence.
Titles are useful in comparative personal relations, even for God, which serve to identify persons in comparative terms either positively or as less. Titles associated with God (such as Almighty, Most High. Shepherd, Deliverer) correctly identify some aspect of God, which have been useful to give God a more distinct identity in the midst of diverse thinking in the human context. Highlighting such titles of God, however, has had a tendency to reduce God and counter relationship together rather than deepen it; observed traditionally, and typically today, as used in worship practice to narrow the focus on only parts of God (notably what God does) instead of the whole of God, which thereby becomes a substitute for face-to-face relationship together. Therefore, these titles of God, valid or not, should never be mistaken for the name of God and the full significance vested in the name God gave, nor should we assume that any substitutes for God’s name have any significance to God and also in our theology and practice. Only the name God gave was the specific relational outcome that Jacob pursued rigorously, and in the relational process his name was changed to Israel (meaning ‘he struggles with God’) to illuminate his own significance.
For God’s name to be distinguished (pala beyond comprehension and comparison) from merely titles of God, the significance of that name has to be beyond the comparative process of human terms to stand alone. To be distinguished as such, however, God’s name must by its nature distinguish God’s ontology and function beyond anything existing—that is, an incomprehensible name (as in Judg 13:17-18).
Jacob validly designated the place of his divine encounter ‘Peniel” (meaning ‘face of God’) because he experienced “God face to face” (Gen 32:30). Yet, it is unlikely that Jacob understood the full significance of both the face of God and the face-to-face experience of God. This significance would further unfold later with Moses.
When the God of Israel further appeared to Moses and called him to lead God’s people, Moses responded: “If…they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex 3:1-15) This was a pivotal relational moment in the history of God’s people, which most importantly was defining for their theology and practice. God responded back unequivocally, though arguably with ambiguity: “‘I AM WHO I AM’…This is my name forever, and this is my name [not title, as in NRSV] for all generations.” The name of God is given unmistakably and is now fully illuminated, if not always unequivocally distinguished. YHWH (the Tetragrammaton) indeed “is my name forever,” and its significance is defined succinctly by R. Kendall Soulen, who retrieves it as foundational for the Trinity: “the Tetragrammaton’s significance resides in the simple fact that refers exclusively to the God of biblical attestation. Unlike appellative names and titles such as God, King, Father, which apply to many besides the one true God, the Tetragrammaton applies to God alone. It is the only personal proper name of the biblically attested God, and it refers to none but him.”
With this pivotal disclosure, the name of YHWH was no longer a secret, yet to know and understand YHWH remains an open question still to be answered—the name which was given for their theological task and thus must be accounted for in ours also.
Yahweh emphatically communicated in relational terms later to Moses the same name with its added relational significance: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Ex 34:5-7, NIV). The word “LORD” when spelled with capital letters stands for God’s name, YHWH; and as connected earlier with the verb hayah (“to be” in Ex 3:15), the dynamic significance of YHWH is disclosed in unmistakable relational terms—though arguably at times in contradictory terms (as Ex 34:7 may appear). God’s relational terms are critical for understanding the name Yahweh in its full significance. This issue became problematic for Israel’s God when they transposed God’s relational terms to their referential terms.
Traditionally, the name Yahweh was never pronounced by Jews out of reverence and respect for their God. Rather they evoked God’s name indirectly by using a synonym (namely adonay, Lord, Sovereign) and, as the custom of Second Temple Judaism, by means of various surrogates, circumlocutions and silent allusions. Despite any good intentions, what unfolds in this theology and practice is counter-relational to the significance of YHWH distinguished only in relational terms. While Israel’s God was properly identified in their theology and practice, their indirectness became engaged in a process of merely referring to God, that is, the referentialization of God in reduced fragmentary terms contrary to God’s whole relational terms. The relational consequence was to have and maintain relational distance from YHWH, by design or inadvertently, and to simulate involvement with God by indirect means, the measures of which became quantitative practices from the outer in without their qualitative significance from inner out (as in Isa 29:13). This recurring pattern was demonstrated in the narrative accounts of the First Testament, which was in contrast to a clearer picture of the significance of YHWH illuminated in the Wisdom texts. Their conformity to such outer-in practice was consequential both for them and for those to come, including us today.
This loss of qualitative relational significance involving the whole person (their persons and God’s) was the direct result of conjointly not understanding the name of YHWH and not receiving the significance of YHWH’s name. YHWH’s name and significance are integrally composed in only relational terms and can be neither understood nor received by anything less and any substitutes. Accordingly, their prevailing God-talk composed referential discourse on a different theological trajectory and relational path than YHWH’s, as witnessed in the OT narratives about ongoing tension and conflict between God’s people and YHWH. On this narrowed-down basis, the God of Israel was often elusive—which included confusing issues of being forsaken and abandoned by God (e.g. Dt 31:17)—either too formidable for the theological task to understand or essentially unable to be known beyond a name or title. Such discourse, and later perceptions of it, has rendered the OT as insufficient, insignificant or irrelevant for Christian theology and practice. While the First Testament is insufficient by itself, it is neither insignificant nor irrelevant for the Second Testament and the theology and practice it embodies integral to YHWH. Unfortunately, much of the referential discourse in OT theology has been the continuity found too often in NT theology, when in the essential truth of the Second Testament there should only be discontinuity with such discourse. Discontinuity or continuity with YHWH has major implications for trinitarian theology and what is considered essential for our theology and practice.
In contrast and conflict with many in Israel (e.g. Num 16:1-40), Moses experienced the relational significance of YHWH’s presence and involvement, which are intrinsic to the name God gave. Jacob had an introductory experience of YHWH’s presence to help him be aware that “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it,” so he renamed the place Bethel (house of God, Gen 28:10-19). This experience was further clarified for Jacob when he alluded to the significance of YHWH’s involvement during his encounter at Peniel (Gen 32:30). Yet, YHWH’s presence and involvement appeared just limited to a place for Jacob, which did not encompass the relational significance of God’s face. This relational significance emerged in Moses’ ongoing experience with YHWH.
Initially, as tradition and custom stipulated, ‘Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex 3:4-6). In his theological task, however, his relational distance was dissolved as he made himself vulnerable to YHWH’s presence and thereby received YHWH’s relational involvement (as emerged in Ex 3:7-4:17). What Moses experienced unfolded in the relational outcome that distinguishes the whole significance of YHWH’s integral presence and involvement: the face of God in face-to-face relationship together (Ex 33:11; Dt 5:4; Num 12:6-8; Dt 34:10). This relational outcome certainly distinguished Moses’ uncommon (read holy) theology and practice from the common (read human shaped) theology and practice prevailing in Israel. Most important, it distinguished who, what and how YHWH is—the whole and uncommon significance of the name of God (cf. 1 Chr 16:10) that converges in the face of God (cf. 1 Chr 16:11, NIV).
YHWH’s relational significance in the face of God is integrally distinguished in God’s definitive blessing upon those in covenant relationship together, the blessing that only has qualitative inner-out meaning in God’s whole relational terms (Num 6:24-26). YHWH would bless them, however, contingent on the significance of the name used by them, which could be composed just in relational terms to distinguish God’s face in reciprocal response for the only purpose of relationship together (6:27). The psalmist invokes the blessing of God’s face in order “that your ways may be known upon earth” for the relational purpose and outcome of “your salvation among all nations” (Ps 67:1-2, NIV). The face of God is not a portrait or static caricature to be honored and remembered, but rather signifies dynamically the very front facial presence (paneh) of the whole of who, what and how God is. The face of God is lost in conceptual terms and obscured in a 2-D referential view, in contrast to the full relational profile of God’s face that shines and illuminates the unmistakable dynamic presence and active involvement of YHWH (as noted in Pss 4:6; 31:16; 44:3; 80:3; 89:15; 119:135).
Some will argue that God really doesn’t have a face, and that giving God a face is to impose an anthropomorphism. Others will argue that we can’t gain any significance from God’s face since no one can see God’s face and live to tell about it (Ex 33:20,23). My response is yes, indeed, if humans give God a face, but no if God discloses the face; to the others, I say that depends on what is meant by face. What did Jacob mean when he said “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” to live to tell about it and call the place Peniel (Gen 32:30)? The significance of God’s face for Jacob was pointed out earlier from the experience of his dream at Bethel: “Surely the LORD’s presence is here” (Gen 28:16). Again, it was unlikely that Jacob understood the full significance of both the face of God and the face-to-face experience of God, but there was no question that he experienced God’s dynamic presence (paneh) and active involvement. The paneh of YHWH unfolded in full relational significance with Moses: “The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Ex 33:11); “The LORD replied, ‘My presence [paneh] will go with you’…Then Moses said to him, ‘If your presence does not go with us…what else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’ And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with your involvement and I know you by name in relational terms” (Ex 33:14-17, NIV).
What was the significance of the paneh that God revealed to Moses in the above account that Moses experienced in face-to-face reciprocal relationship together (even deeper than as common friends), and that distinguished Moses’ theology and practice? YHWH clarified for Moses that the totality of the holy God was beyond human limits to “see me and live.” The totality of God was one way to define God’s face, which then “you cannot see my face.” Of course, some may think that this is the face they perceive, not realizing their false assumptions (e.g. “you will not be reduced,” Gen 3:4) or misguided illusions (e.g. “you will be like God,” 3:5). However, the primary way God’s face can and must be perceived emerges from whatever presence and involvement are disclosed directly by God. That does not mean for God’s presence to be indirectly identified by referential terms; such a face should not be confused with the dynamic presence and active involvement of YHWH that clearly distinguishes the face of God in the significance of only relational terms. What are the relational terms that constitute the name of YHWH and that distinguish the face of God in their significance, in order for us to know and understand the whole of God without assuming the totality of God?
What unfolds in the First Testament has been a debatable issue in OT theology and biblical studies, the discussion of which I will not include in what follows other than an arguable note here and there. As discussed initially above, what God disclosed emerges from an epistemic field that cannot be narrowed down to just the limits and constraints of the prevailing epistemic field used by humans. This further and deeper epistemic field is what Moses engaged in his theological task when he asked YHWH directly: On the relational basis of knowing Moses “by name…[Moses requests] show me your ways, so that I may know you” (Ex 33:13), and then he requested audaciously “Show me your glory” (v.18). If God’s self-disclosures are to emerge distinguished beyond human terms and shaping, they emerge from God’s epistemic field and unfold as communication in relational language and terms to the human context for us to engage in God’s distinct relational epistemic process. Moses’ interaction with YHWH makes unmistakable these relational terms necessary to receive the depth of God’s self-disclosures; and when these terms are referentialized, their limits and constraints prevent both receiving the epistemological integrity of God’s communication and having the hermeneutical clarity of its significance. In other words, the fragmentation and reduction due to referentialization prevent the whole of who, what and how YHWH is from emerging, much less unfolding. This is the expected consequence in our theological task when we don’t venture beyond our epistemological limits and exercise hermeneutic openness—which neither means nor should be confused with premodern fideism or postmodern subjectivism.
The First Testament testifies to the essential reality and truth of who and what emerged and how this unfolded, which testify to its importance and necessity for the Second Testament in general and trinitarian theology in particular. What is immediately distinguished in God’s terms is that the name of YHWH is not static. While YHWH (the Tetragrammaton) is the basic name of God identified in transcendence, YHWH does not remain apart but engages the theological trajectory that improbably intrudes on the human context, which is the original context created by YHWH. What emerged with the name of YHWH (“I AM WHO I AM”) has been associated with the verb ‘to be’ (hayah) to signify God’s being and existence. Yet, God’s ontology is an incomplete picture to distinguish YHWH, a view which philosophical theology has embraced to render God more conceptual and static. What YHWH distinguishes is the primacy of God’s function that is integral to and inseparable from God’s ontology. The being and nature of God don’t just exist but function in such a way that distinguishes who, what and how God is. Moreover, the function of God doesn’t just describe the ontology of God beyond any other gods, but it distinguishes the vulnerable presence and nature of God’s involvement in the human context. That is, the significance of the name YHWH as a verb constitutes God’s whole ontology and function disclosed to us, which otherwise as a nominal do not emerge in their wholeness. Further and deeper, as a verb YHWH’s name does not merely signify God’s activity in the human context—a common notion in OT theology—but constitutes God’s relational-specific action and involvement integral to the whole of God’s presence.
Therefore, just as Moses demonstrated, when we want to know and understand the whole of God, we have to be involved in congruent reciprocal response to the following:
What distinguishes the face-presence of YHWH is whole-ly constituted by relational-specific action for relational-specific involvement in the primacy of relationship together; accordingly, God’s ontology and function cannot merely be observed by disengaged referential terms but can only be relationally experienced (not just spiritually or unilaterally) by the involving relational terms that vulnerably disclose God’s whole ontology and function in the name and with the face-presence of YHWH.
When the same relational terms involve us in our reciprocal relational response—composed by the relational significance of a verb and not a nominal—the relational outcome will be to come face to face with God’s whole ontology and function, just as Moses experienced in the theological task to make whole his monotheism (the clear manifestation [temunah] of YHWH, Num 12:8, and of God’s glory, Ex 33:19, cf. Mt 17:2-3).
Whatever else you want to attribute to YHWH and the significance of this defining name for God, nothing emerges from YHWH or unfolds in the significance of YHWH’s name without the following: the constituting relational-specific action of YHWH integrally determining the vulnerable relational-specific involvement of YHWH’s distinguished face-presence. At the heart of God’s self-disclosure in relational terms is this integral relational action and involvement that, on the one hand, constitutes the primacy of relationship within the whole of God’s ontology and function (the immanent God), and, on the other hand, composes the primacy of relationship by which God’s whole ontology and function is present and involved with us in the human context (the economy of God). Yet, the ontology and function in the economy of God cannot be separated from the ontology and function of the immanent God, because it is the same ontology and function in relational terms. This is not to say, however, that the immanent God can be conflated with and thus reduced to the economy of God, since the identity of God extends beyond God’s action in the world. In referential terms God’s ontology and function in transcendence is kept separate to preserve the totality of God. But it is important to keep in sharp focus that YHWH doesn’t disclose God’s total ontology and function, as he told Moses; YHWH discloses only God’s whole ontology and function, which is the same ontology and function that distinguishes God in relational terms whether in God’s context or the human context. This whole disclosure distinguished beyond comparative human terms the relational outcome of Moses’ vital relational experience with YHWH (notably Ex 33:15-16), as well as determined the pivotal lesson learned by Job in his theological task (Job 42:3-5).
Furthermore, using the term relationality to describe God’s ontology and function (perhaps as implied by Jacob earlier Gen 28:21-22) may or may not be a valid relational term. Relationality may be descriptive but by itself (notably as a noun) it is insufficient or even misleading to define the relational action and involvement basic within the whole of God, and to determine the primary relational significance of God’s ontology and function in the human context. The name of YHWH is an unmistakable relational term that functions ongoingly as a relational verb. On the dynamic basis of this relational term, the significance of YHWH’s name is never nominal but relational action always relationally-specific (1) for distinguishing the face-presence of God’s whole ontology and function, and (2) for only the relational purpose of face-to-face relationship together in wholeness (the shalôm in God’s definitive blessing, Num 6:24-26). This is the relational basis that composes the whole relational terms of covenant relationship (tāmiym, as given to Abraham, Gen 17:1-2).
It was only in the relational process of covenant relationship based on the relational term of YHWH that Moses made his appeal: “If your face-presence does not go with us…how will anyone know…you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people in the human context?” (Ex 33:15-16). Essentially then, Moses held YHWH, in the full significance of the name, accountable to be and function in reciprocal relationship together with the whole of who, what and how YHWH is. YHWH responded accordingly, not just to Moses’ appeal but by the irreducible nature of God’s whole ontology and function—the only integral way God is, lives and acts. Therefore, as the defining relational verb, YHWH disclosed and distinguished nothing less and no substitutes; and just as Moses pursued nothing less and no substitutes of God in his theological task, we need to also in the trinitarian theological task.
The name of YHWH must not be reduced to a mere title or else it transposes the relational verb to a noun, whereby the relational-specific action of the Subject in relational response to us is rendered obscure, ambiguous or elusive—even when God’s general activity and/or relationality are conceived. This has obvious relational consequences, which is evident in the history of God’s people to the present; but most consequential is that God is misrepresented, and that God’s relational response to us is not received in its full significance and thus not relationally responded to by us reciprocally in likeness.
The psalmists declare “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (Ps 29:2; 96:8), and “Blessed be his glorious name forever” (Ps 72:19), and “sing the glory of his name” (Ps 66:2). Then the proclaiming responses, “Let your glory be over all the earth” (Ps 57:5,11; 108:5). This glory of YHWH’s name—whether due his name, praised, sung or proclaimed—is not about whatever glory we give to God but constitutes only the glory YHWH reveals to us. That is, the glory (kabod) due YHWH’s name involves some substantive aspect of God’s ontology and function that was revealed by YHWH, the glory of which signifies to be substantively heavy and impressive (kabed, the root of kabod). What did YHWH reveal of God’s ontology and function that was truly substantive to qualify for kabod?
Our familiarity with the word ‘glory’ in biblical vocabulary should not mislead us in common usage (e.g. in worship) such that it loses its significance. ‘The glory of God’ constitutes the revelation of God’s being, nature and presence to us, whose significance is composed only in relational terms to distinguish the who (being), the what (nature) and the how (presence) of God. If God’s glory is merely perceived in referential terms as the abstract attribute of the transcendent God, we may claim to have some theological knowledge about God but without the relational significance to take us further and deeper in relationship to truly know and understand God. That referential knowledge about God would not be substantive to qualify for kabod. In the First Testament, kabod is used poetically to identify the whole person (Ps 16:9; 57:8; 108:1); and only YHWH revealing the whole of God’s ontology and function to distinguish the being, nature and presence of God warrants “the glory due God’s name.” Who, what and how YHWH is, therefore, is critical to the substantive understanding of God’s whole ontology and function.
When Moses asked YHWH to “show me your glory,” it’s not clear if he requested YHWH’s whole person—but he likely received more than he requested. Later, YHWH called out intensely (qara) to Moses the further significance of YHWH’s name as the substantive relational verb: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands…” (Ex 34:5-7, NIV). What YHWH revealed is the depth of God’s relational action specific to us, and this relational action integrally defines God’s substantive presence and determines God’s substantive involvement in covenant relationship with us. It is this depth that has not always been received by God’s people, which then results in not knowing and/or understanding the substantive quality constituting God’s glory—that is, God’s whole ontology and function composing the whole of who, what and how God is specifically in our context face to face.
Commonly in our theology and practice, love is the key identifier of our God and is ascribed to God as God’s most significant attribute. What YHWH revealed is certainly the most significant key to God, yet it is misleading to identify love as an attribute of God. This needs to be clarified and corrected even though many have been comforted or assured and have even gained hope from thinking ‘God is love’. As an attribute, God’s love is transposed to a referential term that refers to who God is based on what God does, thereby narrowing down the ontology and function of God to just the parts of God’s activity instead of the whole of God’s relational-specific action. This is a subtle, often inadvertent, paradigm shift that has relational consequence both for YHWH’s revelation and what we receive from YHWH for our theology and practice, which will have a major impact on the trinitarian theological task.
The psalmist guides us in the right direction, while his whole person thirsted and longed for his God (Ps 63:1), when he declared “your steadfast love is better than life” (v.3). How could this be so? First of all, when you hear “steadfast” don’t be misled to think of God’s love as an ontological constant. Steadfast can serve as a narrow qualifier for hesed (love, and agape) that loses the full significance the psalmist points to. Having said that, did the psalmist simply overstate an idealism commonly perceived about God’s love? Yes and no. Yes, if the psalmist engaged in the following: When God’s love is narrowed down to a referential term that idealizes the name of God to a nominal status, this renders YHWH without the relational reality that distinguishes the whole real identity of YHWH and its significance as the substantive relational verb; the lack of experiencing God’s love in relational terms is substituted for by the idealizing of God’s love—perhaps like spiritualizing his thirst for God or sublimating his unfulfilled thirst. No, on the other hand, because the psalmist didn’t conceive of YHWH as a noun, but he directly experienced and thus understood (ra’ah) the relational reality of YHWH’s glory (63:2), and this declaration was the relational outcome.
In human thinking, love has been an elusive quality that many have tried to quantify, making it even more elusive to experience. Quantitative measures have narrowed the focus on love to various deeds—most notably of sacrifice as commonly perceived of agape—thereby reducing the primary significance of love to a subordinate position under the quantity of deeds defined as ‘love for others’. Love for others, however, is not the same action as the love of others. The love of others involves relational-specific action that is not focused primarily on what is done by the one loving, or even on how what is done benefits others; and this narrow focus reflects when God is misperceived, how God is misunderstood, and why God is misrepresented. That is, the primary significance of love is not about ‘what I am to do’ but rather constitutes ‘how I am to be involved with others’. What to do in love, even for others, neither signifies nor requires being involved with those others. In contrast, the basis of love’s involvement is only defined by relational terms that by its nature must be determined by relational-specific action. The love of others is always how to be involved with them in relationship, and not just to be relational but to be vulnerably involved in the primacy of relationship with them over any secondary deeds for them. Therefore, what we give primacy to in love—‘what I am to do’ or ‘how I am to be involved’—reveals my person to others: who and what my person is (in reduced ontology or whole ontology?), and how my person is (in reduced function or whole function?). Likewise, the love that YHWH gives to us (or its narrow perception) reveals who, what and how YHWH is in whole ontology and function (or a reduced God).
As YHWH revealed and the psalmist experienced, the relational-specific action of God’s love constitutes the significance of God’s relational involvement directly in the human context, which then distinguishes the substantive whole of God’s being (“ I AM”), nature (“WHO I AM”) and presence (“face”)—that is, which distinguishes the glory of YHWH’s name. The whole of God’s ontology and function emerge with the substantive relational verb of God’s being, nature and presence. It is critical to understand in our theology and practice (perhaps in our thirst and longing for God also) that God’s wholeness only unfolds from the relational-specific action (not merely activity or mere relationality) of the verb, and that God becomes reduced and fragmented by nominal terms—all of which is neither to suggest nor be confused with process theology. And it is vital to understand that the breadth and depth of God’s relational action converge integrally in the relational-specific involvement of love from God. Without the relational-specific involvement of God’s love, the glory of God is neither distinguished in the human context nor experienced by us. Thus, what of God’s being, nature and presence emerge to distinguish for us the significance that the who, what and how of God’s love is better than life?
As the source of all life, it is God’s relational involvement with us that gives life its full significance, and therefore gives all our lives their integral meaning (not partial, situational or temporal) in the primacy of this relational-specific involvement in relationship together. Life by itself is incomplete and has no significance or meaning without the relational involvement of love; not even love as an ideal or as mere deeds provides this significance and meaning. This essential reality has usually not been recognized throughout human history. Even less acknowledged, at times even by God’s people, is the essential truth that life cannot be whole without the relational-specific involvement of God’s love, who is the source of that life. Here again, the real needs to be distinguished from the ideal to understand the essential truth and reality of God’s relational involvement of love and its significance both for our life and God’s. God’s life cannot be separated from or understood apart from the relational dynamic of God’s love, and this includes the very life within the whole of God. Beyond the quantitative deeds and referential activity composing the economy of God, God’s love enacts God’s ontology and function to distinguish the presence of God’s being and nature (i.e. the glory of God). When the economy of God is composed by the ongoing relational involvement of God’s love, it distinguishes the same whole (not total) ontology and function as the immanent God.
Thus, the relational-specific involvement of God’s being, nature and presence revealed the whole of who, what and how God is for us to receive in relationship, and thereby know and understand the essential truth and reality of God’s whole life—the whole ontology and function of God’s being, nature and presence that constitute our life to be in likeness, with the relational-specific outcome of experiencing God’s relational involvement of love being better than life existing without this integral significance and meaning. Knowing who, what and how God is as the substantive relational verb, therefore, is indispensable for understanding both God’s whole ontology and function and ours in order to compose our theology and practice in like wholeness.
When Moses held YHWH accountable in the theological task to show him YHWH’s glory, YHWH distinguished God’s presence more deeply to Moses; and this relational process ongoingly unfolded to signify the depth of their face-to-face relational involvement (Ex 33:11; Num 12:6-8; Dt 34:10). What YHWH disclosed of God’s glory, and this must not be overlooked, was not a static view of God’s presence (as depicted by a noun for referential information) but the dynamic presence of God enacted by the relational verb of YHWH. Even though the totality of God was not revealed, the dynamic presence of God disclosed to Moses required YHWH to be more vulnerable with God’s whole ontology and function. That is, the significance of God’s dynamic presence is always God’s relational-specific involvement, which now discloses God’s vulnerable presence. This is frequently overlooked because the substantive significance of God’s vulnerable presence is only composed in relational terms and constituted by God’s relational involvement (not God’s deeds); and this is why God’s presence is overlooked, misinterpreted or simply elusive. Nevertheless, God’s vulnerable presence unfolds to distinguish the glory of YHWH’s name as the substantive relational verb.
Since God’s vulnerable presence enacts God’s ontology and function in relational terms for the relational-specific purpose of the primacy of relationship together, underlying the covenant established with Abraham was the primacy of relationship together in wholeness—the terms of which were summarized in “walk before me and be blameless” (i.e. be whole, tāmiym, Gen 17:1). What emerged with Abraham and unfolded with Moses is covenant relationship together on the basis of the relational-specific involvement of the whole ontology and function of both God and God’s people. The primacy of relationship together in whole ontology and function first emerged even prior to covenant relationship, when God created human persons in this relational primacy on the basis of God’s likeness (Gen 1:26; 2:18). What is vital for our theology and practice is the integral truth and reality essential of God’s whole ontology and function that are revealed in relational terms by the relational involvement of God’s vulnerable presence: the very nature of God integrally constituting God’s whole ontology and function—God’s relational nature.
God’s relational nature distinguishes God’s vulnerable presence not with mere relationality; God’s relational nature is neither a noun nor an adjective. The relational nature of God is the substantive basis for the whole of who, what and how God is, and all that God enacts in self-disclosure and integrally engages in for relational-specific response to and involvement with us. And God’s vulnerable presence has significance for us because the relational nature of God’s whole ontology and function has emerged, unfolded and been ongoingly involved with us for relationship together, nothing less and no substitutes. YHWH revealed to Moses that the nature of his relational involvement of love is integrally enacted with his faithfulness (Ex 34:6), which the psalmists poetically define as “love and faithfulness meet together” (Ps 85:10, NIV) and “love and faithfulness go before you” (Ps 89:14, NIV). Faithfulness is inseparable from the relational involvement of God’s relational nature and unfolds also as the relational verb to consistently and ongoingly enact God’s involvement of love, so that the whole ontology and function of God can be counted on to be vulnerably present and relationally involved with us in the primacy of relationship together. God’s relational nature indeed is the substantive basis for YHWH’s name as the relational verb, whereby the relational-specific involvement of God’s love is distinguished, and thus for the glory of God to be an essential truth and relational reality in our theology and practice.
Relationship is primary for God, yet this primacy is constituted only by whole ontology and function—just as God communicated to Abraham for covenant relationship, “walk with me in reciprocal relationship and be whole [tāmiym] in your involvement” (Gen 17:1). This wholeness of ontology and function (not about merely “blameless” practice), which also defines the significance of shalôm, was an ongoing issue in the practice of covenant relationship, if not in its theology. The terms for covenant relationship summarized to Abraham and given in the Torah to Moses were always whole relational terms for how to be involved in reciprocal relationship together. Yet, God’s whole relational terms were frequently transposed by the Israelites to referential terms of what to do (such as “blameless” practice), as a code for conformity and identity formation, and thereby for self-determination. This refocused their practice as well as their theological anthropology on the outer aspects while subordinating or ignoring deeper involvement, all of which signified a reduced ontology and function. For example, by revising God’s terms for relationship, they re-formed the covenant from the covenant of love (Dt 7:7-9) to a quid pro quo contract; and thus they essentially revised the book of Deuteronomy from the essential truth and reality of God’s love story—which it is indeed in its relational depth (Dt 4:37; 7:7-9; 10:15; 23:5; 33:3)—to a template of conformity without relational significance. In this fragmentary process, God was also reduced mainly to a figurehead or referential point for their theology and practice (cf. 1 Sam 15:22-23; Ps 147:10-11; Jer 7:21-26). This pattern in their theology and practice certainly was consequential and needs to be understood to locate such patterns in our own theology and practice.
The relational consequence was that the Israelites redacted the name of YHWH to a noun and conflated the glory of God’s name with insignificant titles and other secondary matter. Thereby they reshaped the covenant relationship of love with God to a covenant increasingly detached from the primacy of relationship and distant from God, so that the covenant became engaged in secondary matter merely in referential terms (e.g. Isa 29:13; 58:1-6, cf. Mt 15:7-9). Does this have any similarity to contemporary theology and practice, notably being preoccupied with the secondary from outer in? The critiques from YHWH become even more relational-specific with Jesus, and encompass both religious and sociocultural traditions and their underlying reduced ontology and function from the influence of reductionism and its counter-relational workings.
God’s vulnerable presence and relational nature obviously were affected by such theology and practice, and YHWH responded accordingly (as disclosed in Ex 34:7). What is also revealed in the God of Israel’s relational response of love is the further enactment of God’s whole ontology and function that now distinguishes the vulnerable presence of God’s being, along with God’s relational nature. The essential reality of God’s relational nature vulnerably presented and relationally involved is further distinguished in its depth when YHWH revealed the defining basis for establishing covenant relationship. When God’s people were chosen by YHWH “out of all the peoples on the earth,” God did not focus his love, affection, heart (hashaq) on them “because you were more numerous than any other people”; in fact, “you were the fewest of all peoples” (Dt 7:6-7). This is not to say that ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘less is better/more’ for God, and to idealize God as the benefactor of the minority in the world. YHWH revealed that the relational nature of God’s presence and involvement with them was further determined by the heart of God’s ontology and function: the qualitative being of God, which distinguishes God’s glory by integral qualitative terms as well as relational terms to constitute God’s whole ontology and function for the necessary involvement in covenant relationship.
The heart of God’s ontology is not defined in quantitative terms, nor is the heart of God’s function determined by the quantitative. Such quantitative measures have traditionally reduced the immanent God to human shaping and rendered the economy of God to an ontology and function in human terms. Therefore, what is primary for God’s ontology and function is always the qualitative over the quantitative (not to exclude it), which signifies the primacy of ontology and function from inner out that fully integrates the outer into the primacy of the inner. Outer-in ontology and function is a substitute from reductionism that is both in contrast and conflict with God’s whole ontology and function, as well as with persons in God’s qualitative image and relational likeness. At the depth of God’s ontology and function is the qualitative heart of God’s being from inner out that constitutes God’s relational nature in all God’s relational involvement with nothing less and no substitutes for God’s whole ontology and function. Congruent to the whole of who, what and how God is in full glory, the heart of God’s qualitative being centers the vulnerable involvement of God’s relational nature on the heart of our ontology and function, not on our quantitative matter. Samuel had to learn this critical distinction, which was pivotal for him to find God’s successor to Saul (1 Sam 16:6-7).
God pursues the heart of our ontology and function because that constitutes the whole person from inner out (1 Chr 28:9). This is the ontology and function necessary for compatible involvement with the heart of God’s ontology and function in the primacy of reciprocal relationship together. Anything less and any substitutes for the heart of our person have no significance to God’s heart, and therefore are insufficient involvement by our ontology and function because it is incompatible with the vulnerable presence and relational involvement of the qualitative heart of God’s whole ontology and function (Isa 29:13). When the name of YHWH as the substantive relational verb enacted God’s whole ontology and function, the glory of God was disclosed in relational-specific terms to integrally distinguish the essential truth and reality to compose our theology and practice: the qualitative being of God’s vulnerable presence and the relational nature of God’s relational involvement.
If the glory of God revealed is not received as distinguished by the name of YHWH, there is no substantive basis to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (Ps 29:2; 96:8), to “bless his glorious name” (Ps 72:19), and to “sing the glory of his name” (Ps 66:2). And there is an insurmountable gap in our theology and practice between the essential truth and essential reality of God’s glory—which should not be confused with the gap in Lessing’s ‘ugly ditch’ between faith (as fideism) and reason. This gap is most notable in the doxology (from doxa, glory) of our theology and practice, a doxology which does not get to the heart of God’s ontology and function when not distinguished by God’s whole glory. If this is the extent of our doxology, then our theology and practice have assumed a different theological trajectory and relational path from God’s self-revelation. The existing reality, then, becomes that God’s so-called glory signifies reduced ontology and function—even when the referential truth of God’s glory appears doctrinally correct.
YHWH enacted the heart of God’s whole (again, not total) ontology and function to disclose the substantive glory of God’s qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence for just this relational-specific outcome: so that the vulnerable qualitative relational involvement of God’s love in face-to-face reciprocal relationship together constitutes and distinguishes all in the significance beyond life itself—just as the psalmist declared. The dynamic relational verb of the name YHWH acted in only whole relational terms to unfold the essential truth of God’s glory, so that the essential reality of the whole of God’s qualitative relational presence would be known relationally and fully understood in this relational outcome for our theology and practice. This is the glory of God’s name that is irreplaceable for our theology and practice, including trinitarian theology and practice.
The essential truth, which we have the relational opportunity to receive, understand and be involved with, is that God’s whole ontology and function is irreducible, and therefore can ongoingly be counted on (“faithfulness”) to be vulnerably present and relationally involved with nothing less and no substitutes for the whole of God. Yet, the reality essential also of God’s whole relational terms is that relationship with the whole of God is not unilateral but reciprocal. This has opened the door for human will to act in self-autonomy to redefine the terms for relationship together, notably becoming preoccupied with the secondary for self-determination. Thus, as emerged from the beginning, our ontology and function has been subject to negotiation and often rendered to reduced ontology and function—which then renegotiates the glory of God’s name down to reduced ontology and function. This reduction is evident in many of our theological anthropologies and has been influential in the trinitarian theological task, all of which should not be surprising whenever there is a gap between the essential truth of God’s whole glory revealed and the essential reality of the whole of God’s ontology and function composing our theology and practice.
This gap reflects epistemological and hermeneutical problems (discussed in chap. 1) yet most importantly involves a relational problem, because this is the unavoidable relational gap of not making relational connection with the relational-specific action of YHWH’s presence and involvement. Even when YHWH’s presence and involvement are affirmed referentially in our theology and practice, this relational gap still exists without the relational significance of YHWH’s name. Accordingly, and most important, doxology always maintains a wide gap in our theology and practice when not defined and determined by God’s full glory. When the theological task falls short in doxology, the relational consequence renders us to virtual worship of a reductionist ideal or stereotype of God. In contrast and conflict with what is virtual, the relationship-specific outcome of engaging God in the relational context and terms distinguished by YHWH alone is the relational experience of vulnerable face-to-face connection of our whole person directly experiencing the whole of God. We need to understand how crucial this issue is and address the matter with urgency in the theological task, since no less than God’s wholeness and thus the whole of God are at stake—that is, the substantive basis for what is essential for all life and that is requisite to integrally compose our trinitarian theology and practice.
We cannot behold the glory of God in anything less than God’s whole ontology and function enacted by the vulnerable qualitative relational involvement of the LORD’s love. God is neither distinguished nor experienced without the truth and reality of the substantive relational verb of YHWH’s name. Since the truth of YHWH’s name gets redacted and the reality of YHWH’s presence gets conflated with secondary matter without qualitative relational significance, their coherence is not often clear whether it is just the unity or the whole of YHWH composed in our theology and practice. Is there in fact a difference between unity and whole, and is it necessary to make a distinction between them? The clarification and/or correction involved in discussing these matters will further challenge our interpretive lens of the First Testament.
In the coherence of the OT narrative, the identity of God’s name as monotheistic was not a contested theological truth, though the reality of God’s presence and involvement was frequently doubted in practice. The Shema prevailed to establish the God of Israel in monotheism, which extended into Second Temple Judaism to have no question about the identity of “one God” (Mal 2:10). Even though the name of YHWH encompassed various titles (such as Creator, Almighty, Savior), these did not signify a theological plurality but only sub-titles to the one God. The ontology of God maintained its singular integrity while God’s function took on various forms. This ‘singularity with diversity’ becomes problematic when God’s ontology and function are seen separately, and yet still poses a problem when seen together if that ontology and function are not understood integrally.
One title-function used in the First Testament of God in particular raises this issue: Father. Moses distinctly recited the words in a song for all of Israel to hear, “Is not the name of YHWH your father?” (Dt 32:6) The psalmist recorded David’s cry to the LORD that extended Moses’ song: “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation” (Ps 89:26, cf. 2:7). In the dark days of Israel, Jeremiah illuminated their contradictory practice of addressing the name of YHWH as “Father” (Jer 3:4,19); and in anticipation of new days, the third installment of Isaiah clearly affirmed YHWH as “you are our father…from of old is your name” (Isa 63:16). After the temple was rebuilt, the practice of God’s people in their covenant observance was further critiqued with this focus: “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal 2:10). What is unmistakable in the First Testament identity of God with father is that its significance only emerges in relational terms; referential terms create theological ambiguity—for example, what of God is referred to?—that can mislead or distort our perception of God’s identity, particularly in the trinitarian task.
In relational terms, the above accounts identify ‘father’ as God’s function in how God is present and involved with his covenant family, who bear the identity as the children of God (Dt 14:1, cf. Ex 4:22; Jer 31:9). It is problematic at this stage in the theological task to also identify Father as who and what God is, that is, God’s ontology; that would be unwarranted theologically and thus premature. Yet, having said that, it is critical to the integrity of the one God that God’s function (with plurality of forms) never be separated from God’s ontology (in singularity), or God becomes divided and fragmented (perhaps into multiple Gods), and thereby reduced in ontology and function and no longer whole from inner out. In other words, how God is in relational terms is always who and what God is, and who and what God is is always how God is—though this truth and reality essential to the whole of God are not distinguished in referential terms.
This points us to the issue of the unity or whole of God. Referential terms narrow God down to the parts of who, what and how God is—such as the traditional view of God’s ontology in terms of God’s existence and God’s functions in terms of essence—and then reference these parts (titles, attributes, functions) with each other, or as their sum together, in order to compose a unity of God (likely a static unity). This unity has no relational significance for the truth and reality essential of God other than for referential doctrine about God. It is crucial to understand for the composition of our theology and practice: The whole of God is not the sum of God’s parts, however inclusive, but involves the integral relations between who, what and how God is—that is, the ongoing integral relations within God that constitute God’s irreducible whole ontology and function. Another way then to differentiate between God’s unity and God’s whole is to understand this existing condition: God’s unity refers to a realm of thought and ideas, whereas God’s whole involves the real world of relational action and experience. This distinction between a unity of God and the whole of God is vital for the integrity of the dynamic name of YHWH and to distinguish (pala) the glory of God beyond the comparative terms of human thought and ideas.
In our theology and practice, for there to be continuity of the name of God and for God to be distinguished beyond the shaping of our human context, our theology cannot be a human variable that is subject to negotiation. Unlike politics, for example, which is determined primarily by pragmatism in an unavoidable process of negotiation and compromise, theology by God’s whole relational terms is nonnegotiable and integrates the irreducible “idealism” of God with the realism of human life not by pragmatic compromise but integrally to redeem it and make it whole. Traditionally, what goes into composing the unity of God has been an explicit or implicit process of negotiation and/or compromise, which in reality becomes fragmentary and a reduction of God contrary to being the whole ontology and function of God—despite whatever so-called certainty the doctrine of unity is based on.
While the significance of the name of YHWH as father cannot be used to make definitive the person of the Father in the triune God, that father’s title-function distinguishes the glory of YHWH as the substantive relational verb, who enacted the whole of God’s ontology and function in the relational-specific involvement of nothing less than family love. This involves the relational-specific love of God’s covenant family that composed the covenant of love (Dt 7:7-9). The qualitative being of YHWH’s vulnerable relational involvement “meet together” in family love (as the psalmist said, Ps 85:10), the relational-specific process of which integrally constitutes the fatherhood of God’s salvific action for our essential reality. YHWH’s relational-specific process of family love would continue to illuminate God’s face (as in Num 6:24-27) to unfold the whole of God’s relational-specific context of family not only for Israel but for all nations (cf. Gen 17:4; Ps 67:1-4; 98:2). And the whole of God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love signify more than the unity of God composed simply in referential terms, because what unfolds is only the relational-specific action of God’s whole ontology and function—that is, nothing less than and no substitutes for the whole of who, what and how God is. And God’s function as father is at the center of God’s whole relational context of family and whole relational process of family love.
The singular integrity of God’s ontology also took on two other vital forms of God’s function along with father, whose singularity with diversity will further help us distinguish the whole of God from just the unity of God. The singularity of this diversity expressed in the First Testament will challenge any limited perceptions of God and open up the new horizon that makes definitive the whole of God’s ontology and function in the Second Testament.
The next/second vital form was central to God’s function in the unfolding narrative of the First Testament that revealed God’s integral presence and involvement—integral because God’s presence is never without God’s involvement, relational-specific involvement in family love. Yet, as will be distinguished, this central function of God is in contrast to and conflict with other common perceptions of God. On the one hand, God’s presence and involvement are in contrast to the detached God in transcendence of deism. The theism of OT theology, on the other hand, is also in contrast with a referential immanence of merely God’s general presence and activity within the world. Furthermore it is in conflict with the hybrid view of God’s transcendence and immanence in an even more generalized identification of God’s presence and agency permeating the world order, a view called panentheism, and also in conflict with pantheism that identifies God as composed within all of reality—without any distinguished presence in transcendence and with having no relational significance in the world. In further contrast and conflict, the integral presence and involvement of God unfolding with coherence in the First Testament is ‘the Spirit of God’.
The presence and involvement of God’s function emerged in the beginning at creation: “the Spirit [ruah, spirit, wind, breadth] of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen 1:2, NIV). Perhaps this stage of God’s creative action was post-Big Bang, yet planet earth (‘eres) formed with the function of God’s presence and involvement. Even if ruah is translated as “a wind,” it was “from God” (NRSV) signifying God’s presence and involvement. Also, even if a Big Bang and evolutionary biology provide sub-plots for the universe and human life, God’s presence and involvement are neither precluded nor eliminated—modern assumptions that can only be made from a limited epistemic field. And the ruah of God emerged beyond pantheism and panentheism and unfolded deeper than immanence to become palpable to increasingly distinguish God’s unmistakable presence and involvement. This Spirit will also clarify and correct perceptions of God that limit or constrain God—for example, later from the time of patristic theology that has conceived of God as reason and will, or as mind, and thus the basis for creating human life in such likeness, the prevailing view of the human person to this modern time.
After God’s involvement in creative action, God’s continued involvement with humanity in general was tenuous—“My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are reduced” (Gen 6:3)—though God’s presence was never withdrawn, as evident with Noah (Gen 6:6-8). Within the context of covenant relationship, the spirit of the LORD God’s presence and involvement would undergo ups and downs, ins and outs (e.g. Num 11:25; Judg 6:34; 1 Sam 10:10; 16:14; 2 Sam 23:2; Ps 51:11; Neh 9:20,30), and then would unfold in the transformed days of new covenant relationship together (Joel 2:28-29, cf. Isa 61:1).
The who and what of the spirit of God’s presence and involvement are not distinguished in this OT discourse, other than to identify the spirit as holy and as affective (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10). Holy (qodesh) signifies to be uncommon and separated from the ordinary usage in the human context, thus the how of God’s function as spirit is clearly distinguished beyond what is common to us and cannot be always explained in human terms. Accordingly, YHWH made it imperative for our theology and practice “to distinguish between the holy [uncommon] and the common” (Lev 10:10)—the uncommon from the subtle unholy that could encompass the status quo in our theology and practice (as in Isa 55:8). Further, the involvement of God’s function as an affective spirit (“grieved,” Isa 63:10; cf. Gen 6:6) helps us understand the apparent ins and outs of God’s involvement in covenant relationship together, which again is a reciprocal relationship that can have relational consequences. The affective spirit of God is not understood in quantitative referential terms, nor can it be known as just a spiritual nature. This spirit can only be illuminated and palpable in qualitative relational terms, which is the composition of God’s self-disclosure. Thus, the significance of the affective spirit also reveals to us that God’s function should not be separated from God’s ontology; and this integral spirit will be crucial to distinguish the identity of the whole and uncommon God in the trinitarian theological task. Moreover, the spirit’s presence and involvement signifying the diversity of God’s function is insufficiently accounted for by merely compiling it in the unity of God.
What the fatherhood and affective spirit of God’s function make unmistakable for us is to distinguish nothing less than the whole and uncommon God’s presence and involvement, enacted by the substantive relational verb with no substitutes for YHWH’s whole ontology and function. This whole relational-specific context and process of God converge in the third form of God’s function that emerges in the First Testament. What is testified centers on God’s communicative action and this is why the First Testament is a more significant inscription to use than ‘Old’ since communication from God is never old, past and irrelevant. The psalmist summarizes God’s communication for us with this defining statement: “The unfolding of your words gives light” (Ps 119:130)—the illuminating function of the Word.
Unlike the words commonly composing human speech, the words God speaks do not revolve around God. That is to say, the words of God are not self-promoting, nor do they serve for the self-glorification of the one God. While God may be central to God’s words (notably in the Torah), they are not self-centered to even suggest the self-pride of God’s name. When God speaks, the words emerge from God’s relational context by God’s relational process for the primary relational purpose of communication in the primacy of relationship. This relationship-specific action cannot be received and understood in the limits of referential terms since it is only composed by these relational-specific terms. In other words, God’s relational-specific words, what unfolds from God’s words is the light necessary to integrally (1) know and understand the whole of God’s face (as Job experienced, Job 42:4-5, cf. the boast in Jer 9:24), in order to (2) constitute the primacy of face-to-face reciprocal relationship together in the covenant of love (as unfolds in Dt to compose God’s love story, not God’s self-serving terms, cf. Dt 7:8-9; 8:3; 11:19).
God’s relational context and process were illuminated at creation when God’s words called forth all of life that exists, whether known or not to humankind (Gen 1; Ps 33:6-9). With each “the LORD God said,” the relational context and process of God further emerged to communicate God’s presence and involvement in the human context. The word of YHWH often was communicated through human persons in the prophetic task, yet the source of their speech was unequivocally “the LORD says” because “the word of YHWH came to them” (e.g. 2 Sam 7:4-5,17,19,21,29); therefore, this word was neither transposed to human terms nor redacted to serve a human purpose. Whether directly or indirectly communicated, it is crucial to understand that the word of YHWH functions only in the primary significance of YHWH the relational verb.
What unfolds from God’s words is not merely communication as an end in itself or to inform us about God (the function of referential language and terms). Rather God’s words openly communicate God’s relational response of grace to the human condition, problem and need. Initiated in and from the beginning, “the LORD said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’” (Gen 2:18), that is, apart from the whole constituted by the primacy of relationship in God’s likeness. Accordingly, God’s communicative (and creative) action responded in the relational-specific purpose for the relationship-specific outcome that always unfolds in this primacy of relationship together in wholeness both with God and with each other (cf. Gen 2:25). The words of God’s communicative response continued to unfold God’s creative action and then disciplinary action to God’s salvific action (e.g. as witnessed in the Historical Books).
How God’s words function in the narrative history of God’s people illuminates the relational-specific context and process of God’s whole presence and involvement, which is communicated by the relational-specific action of God’s whole ontology and function—the whole of who, what and how God is in the relational response of grace to the human condition, problem and need. Just as the psalmist declared the “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Ps 119:130), Joshua experienced the relational significance of “all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us” (Josh 24:27). This essential truth and reality of the words of God’s function and this relational outcome of God’s words converge in the singularity of God’s Word—that is, to constitute the whole Word and not to compose or compile the unity of the Word. This convergence involves the relational purpose to distinguish the whole function of the integral Word of and from God—as in “The Lord announced the word [’omer], and great was the company of those who proclaimed it” (Ps 68:11, NIV). The unfolding of the Word illuminates the following for our understanding: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the relational purpose for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11). Thus, all God’s people are told: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (Isa 60:1), for the Word is distinguished by the name “Wonderful” (pala) and even “Father” (Isa 9:6), and “the whole Word will be your everlasting light” (Isa 60:19).
It is now this Word that will be the epistemological, hermeneutical, relational and ontological keys to the whole and uncommon God, and who will be integral for God as father and as spirit to be known and understood together as the triune God. Together their diversity of function does not compose in referential terms the tri-unity of God; even if perceived as personal, this tri-unity is insufficient composition of the triune God. The Word is integral for the whole and holy God because it does not merely put together the sum of these parts for the unity of God. God’s words unfold with the Word in the relational process of synergism, which distinguishes (pala) the whole and uncommon God as greater than the sum of narrowed-down parts and therefore beyond any common triunity. In relational terms, contrary to the mere sum of referential parts, together they (each of them beyond just function) constitute the inseparable and integral ontology and function of the whole of God, subsequently to bear the uncommon name of the Trinity, nothing less and no substitutes.
Shifting from YHWH of Israel to the Christian triune God is a difficult transition for the traditions of both sides of monotheism. Some may think that a paradigm shift is required to make such a move, or even that fideism is needed to cross this perceived gap. Yet, the name of YHWH as the substantive relational verb never becomes static as a mere noun for theological reference; Subject God (not as Object) continued in the relational involvement of love enacted by YHWH’s whole ontology and function in order to further disclose the glory of the whole and uncommon God. It should not be surprising then, though it may exceed human understanding, that the God whose presence and involvement continue to unfold also continues to go deeper than the essential truth of God accessible and the essential reality of God existing at that time.
As the substantive relational verb, the name of YHWH enacting the whole and uncommon God now unfolds in transition integrally on the improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path previously neither witnessed nor experienced. This theological trajectory and relational path are the most improbable and intrusive encounters of God experienced in the human context. They have, on the one hand, unequivocally constituted the whole and uncommon God’s vulnerable presence and intimate relational involvement, and, on the other hand, have caused questions, speculations, confusion, doubt and conflict. In other common words, the improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path of the Word will shake up both the universe and the status quo, with the relational outcome that our theology and practice will never be the same: that is, not constrained to the epistemological limits of a narrow epistemic field, to the hermeneutical limits of an interpretive lens shaped only by human terms (notably of referential thought and ideas), and constrained by the relational and ontological limits from reductionism embedded (if not enslaved) in the secondary—all of which prevail because of reduced ontology and function. Even the psalmist likely could not have anticipated the Light that “the unfolding of your Word gives,” nor would have realized that it “imparts whole and uncommon understanding to the simple.”
As this transition is made and the Word unfolds—who has already emerged ‘in the beginning’—the hope of new covenant relationship together as the whole of God’s uncommon family is raised up; and the fulfillment for the primacy of this relationship together in wholeness is provided and thereby constituted whole. Indeed, as promised by the name of YHWH, “My face shines on you and relationally responds in grace to you; my face turns to you and brings change to establish new relationship together in wholeness”—the essential relational outcome of siym and shalôm from the whole and uncommon God’s definitive blessing on us (Num 6:24-27).
 R. Kendall Soulen, “’The Name above Every Name’: The Eternal Identity of the Second Person of the Trinity and the Covenant of Grace,” in Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders, eds., Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 117.
©2016 T. Dave Matsuo