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Sunday, March 20, 2016

First Concerns

It was quite a while in my Christian life before I saw this. English problems.
"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.'" (Matt 6:7-9)
Most of us know this text from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. A lot of non-Christians know the Lord's Prayer. In it He teaches His disciples not to pray as the Gentiles do, but to pray "in this way". What way?

The Lord's Prayer (as it is classically known) starts with the proper address: "Our Father who is in heaven." Not some saint or any other useless address. The Father. In heaven. Over all. Good start.

Now, most of us think that the second phrase is part of the address. "Hallowed be Your name." "Yes, we know," they'll typically say. "That means His name is holy." See what I mean? English problems.

First, in English -- at least, in our culture -- a name is a term for something or someone. But in the culture of the time the name represented the person. It represented the power and the authority and the character of the person. Thus, the reference to "Your name" is a reference to all that God is.

But the real problem is in the language itself. The use of the term "hallowed" as well as the verb, "be", all combined with the poetic phrasing, tends to make us miss this. This phrase is not a statement of fact ("Your name is holy."), but actually a prayer request. That is, if the intent was to make a statement of fact, it would have read, "Hallowed is Your name." Thus, this is a request that God's name -- His character -- would be regarded as holy.

Of all the attributes of God, His holiness is on one hand the most intense, as demonstrated by the triple repetition of the term not once but twice in Scripture (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8) and by its repeated use throughout Scripture, and on the other the most difficult for us. Holiness is "otherness", and we are naturally afraid of "other". But God is "other." The psalmist quotes God as chiding us with "You thought that I was just like you." (Psa 50:21) Because we do think that and He is not. He is holy. When Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, were struck dead while performing their duties (Lev 10:1), Moses calmed Aaron by telling him, "It is what the LORD spoke, saying, 'By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.'" (Lev 10:3) With that, Aaron kept silent. Because the holiness of God is over all.

We've tended to lower that bar, so to speak. Keep Him as holy? Well, sort of. Of course, using His name lightly as an expression of surprise or outrage is okay. And, of course, we're pretty sure He's not that "big scary guy in the sky", but more like "the big guy", our pal. We've eaten away at His holiness until it's largely just a shell. Brothers, these things ought not be.

Let's join Christ in praying that God's name -- God's character and person -- would be regarded as "holy, holy, holy." Only with God in His proper place can we properly know Him. And we want to know Him.

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