The culture of our world tries to name us. It starts early, often in elementary school, and continues well into adulthood. Athlete. Unathletic. Smart. Not smart enough. Popular. Outcast. Beautiful. Not handsome enough. Successful. Screwup. Fascinating. Boring. Lovable. Impossible to love. But these names never have much or anything to do with our God-given identities. Only true names reflect our true identities.
In Unspoken Sermons, George MacDonald, 19th Century Scottish author, poet, and minister wrote that there is only one who can give us a true name:
“The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the being, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the [person]’s own symbol—his [or her] soul’s picture, in a word—the sign which belongs to him [or her] and to no one else. Who can give a [person] this, his [or her] own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the [person] is, or even, seeing what he [or she] is, could express in a name-word the sum and harmony of what he sees.”
God is a Re-Namer
Fortunately, God is a namer. Or maybe, said better, he is a re-namer. He will sometimes step in and rename us according to our true identities—as he did with Abram. He bestowed upon him his true name, Abraham. In Hebrew, Abram means “high father” or “father is exalted.” Abraham, though, means “father of a multitude,” and Abraham became that—the biological progenitor of Israel and the patriarch of Judaism. Two generations later, God renamed Jacob: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).
Jesus too is a namer. He continued right on with his Father’s practice of bestowing true names. He did it with a man named Simon. Upon their very first encounter, Jesus looked at him: “‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)” (John 1:42). The name Peter comes from the Greek word petra, which means “rock.” Later, Jesus explained to Peter why the name Peter—petra, rock—was so important: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Bestowing a True Name
It’s easy for God to bestow true names. He sees, knows, and understands everything. But it’s hard for us—individual humans struggling through this confusing world—to sort and decide what is true and what is false. We need help—we need God’s help. We need his people—Christ-following, Spirit-filled believers—to help us pursue our true names. Wives need their husbands. Husbands need their wives.
Because MacDonald is right. God alone can name us. But, the crazy thing is, God lives right inside each one of us. That’s one thing that happens when we start following Jesus. His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, begins living in our hearts. And, because of that, we are better able to discern right from wrong, truth from untruth.
Father’s Day Challenge
Here, therefore, is your Father’s Day challenge: Spend some time in prayer and solitude over the next week. Begin your prayer time by thanking God for his nearness and love. Then, ask him for help—for discernment. When you’re ready, consider the names your husband has picked up throughout his life, beginning in his youth. Make a list.
Now, consider whether those names are true or false. You know this man better than anyone but God—and the Holy Spirit is in your heart. God is in this very moment with you. Make your list into two—true names, true descriptions on one side; false names, false descriptions on the other. Then, when you are ready, make your two lists back into one by striking out anything false and writing instead what you see, what you know is true about your husband, next to each false name, each false description. When you’re done, close your prayer time with gratitude and amen.
Now, resolve to find a few moments on Father’s Day to tell your husband what’s true on your list. Give him the gift of truth.
Jennifer and Justin Camp are married and writers. They co-founded Gather Ministries, a Christian nonprofit focused on discipleship and encouragement. Justin recently released his latest book, Odyssey: Encounter the God of Heaven and Escape the Surly Bonds of This World—it’s another great gift idea for Father’s Day.