Hallowed Name

When Jesus gave his disciples instructions on how they were to pray, he provided a model, commonly called, “the Lord’s prayer”.  The first two lines in the English Standard Version read, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”.  A footnote for the second line notes two other renderings: 

“Let your name be kept holy” and; 

“Let your name be treated with reverence”.

These alternatives help us understand the rarely used word, “hallowed”.

Note that the second phrase is not, “you are holy,” or “I turn to you now with a sense of reverence.”  A prayer such as this would certainly be appropriate, but Jesus’ model specifies God’s name.  The implication is that Jesus is thinking outward; he is thinking about God’s reputation.  He is thinking about how important it is that people recognize the holiness of God.  The prayer implies that many don’t recognize this truth, but that they need to.

Consider public education in America as an example.  America is ideologically pluralistic so, in a real sense, it should not promote one ideology over others in the public education system.  Consequently, public education is committed to ideological agnosticism (even though in practice this has become a promotion of the humanism).  A consequence of commitment to agnosticism is the neglect of God.  If God is a myth, all is well, but if God is the creator and source of wisdom, American public education has taken a fork in the road that leads to a wasteland.

Back to the prayer.  Here Jesus, Son in the Godhead, instructs his disciples to pray to the Father in the Godhead, in order that the Father will see to it that his own name is honored.  At first blush one might wonder about the hubris of such a god.  Is God proud?  Let’s consider what we know about the pridefulness of the triune God.  The verses below are descriptions of Jesus:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…” – Colossians 1.15-19

They said to him therefore, “Where is your father?”  Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father.  If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” – John 8.19

These verses and others make it clear that we can know the character of the Father, and by extension, the Holy Spirit, by knowing Jesus.  While the three are understood to be three separate “persons”, they are in absolute agreement about righteousness, holiness, justice, love, mercy, etc.  They have the same spirit.  Was Jesus proud?

Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” – Luke 9.58

He grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. – Isaiah 53.2,3

Jesus came to earth as a human baby, while somehow retaining the fullness of God.  He was born to a poor couple in a backwater town of a backwater country.  The reach of his ministry had a radius of maybe 100 miles.  His career was short, ending in disgrace.  Occupying foreigners crucified him, implying that he was considered seditious—a rebel against the Roman empire.  Even his resurrection was a humble affair.  He could have paraded with fanfare, perhaps heralded by ten thousand angels, through the streets of Jerusalem.  This would have raised some eyebrows…maybe have made the front page of la Repubblica.  But, instead, his resurrection was spent in meetings with his disciples.  Then he quietly slipped away. 

So if this is how Jesus chose to dwell among humans, and if he is the image of the invisible God, we have to conclude that God, in his fullness, is humble of character.  This is reinforced by what he says over and over to his people, those he calls to be like him:

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. – Psalm 138.6

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5.3

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5.5

So, if God loves humility and is himself humble, then why would he promote the idea of reverence for his name?  There are a number of reasons, no doubt.  C.S. Lewis presented worship from this angle:  “It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”  From this perspective, worship is an outlet.  The person filled with joy needs to express that joy.

Another answer is that people become like what they worship.  This is why Scriptures are so full of warnings against idols.  Idols cannot hurt God but they can destroy people.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes but do not see.  They have ears but do not hear; noses but do not smell.  They have hands, but do not feel; feet but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.  Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. – Psalm 115.4-8

What we choose to worship is important.  If I choose to worship wealth and material things, I will become isolated and lifeless, because I will neglect relationships.  If I choose to worship my own race, I will become filled with hate, because there are many races, all in search of fair treatment, and  their objectives will always seem to be in conflict with mine.  

If I worship humanity, I will find myself blown about with the tumbleweed doctrines of Twitter and Facebook and the other social gossip platforms.  After a time, I will be filled with despair as I recognize that humanism is great at finding fault but is lost when it tries to define faultlessness.  And I will experience even greater despair when I realize that humanism is a powerless, hopeless vision.  

If I worship a hubcap that has come to rest at the corner of Market and 34th Streets, I am bound to live my life in a state of deep confusion.  We all worship something.  We all order our lives on what we highly value.  So we each need to consider carefully what is it that we highly value and, what is this worship doing to me.

Another way to answer the question is to consider various contexts where God expresses concern about how his name is treated.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23.2,3   He wants it to be known that he is compassionate, protective and nurturing towards his people.

I have refined you, but not as silver, I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.  For my own sake, for my own sake I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. – Isaiah 48.10,11  Even here, where the emphasis is God’s reputation, it is associated with his actions.  He does not always seem to be tender, but he is at work refining his people, and it is this work that he associates with his name’s value.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. – Proverbs 18.10

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9.6

When God asks us to worship him for his name’s sake, the emphasis becomes his reputation.  If the concern is his reputation, then the worship of God is not for his sake but for ours.  He does not need our worship, but we need to worship him.  God is not dependent on my opinion of him; however, how I understand God is critical to me and to how I order my life.  It is not possible to recognize God as all-powerful, holy, the author and provider of life, and filled with gracious, tender love for his people, and then make no adjustments to my life that account for this understanding.  

If you love me you will keep my commandments. – John 14.15

He could easily have said, I have given you my commandments because I love you.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalm 119.105

If we pause a minute we can see the beauty of God in his commandments.  He calls us to patience and kindness, to justice, to forbearance, to mercy, to generosity, to forgiveness, to humility, to honesty, to industry and responsibility, and he calls us to faithfulness.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 22. 37-40

We understand God through his commandments, but we also understand him through his works in history.  He is the creator of the universe.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. – Psalm 19.1

He has shown himself to be a great deliverer, creating a nation out of a rabble of slaves.  When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he identified himself by his actions: 

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. – Exodus 20.2

He went to great trouble to have his acts and directives recorded in what we today call the Bible.  There were roughly 40 authors who wrote over a period of 3400 years.  The Bible is an amazing story in itself.

But God’s greatest act was sending his Son, Jesus, to teach, to demonstrate his compassion and power through acts of healing and other miracles.  And he sent Jesus as the means of delivery from the bondage of sin and death. 

If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5.10

I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8.38,39

Do we worship God because, by comparison, we are insignificant and he is immeasurably great?  No.  Any devaluation of the creature devaluates the Creator.  It is not that he is relatively wonderful but that he is the essence of wonder.  Where creativity can be exercised, God creates; where peace can be established, God is establishing it; wherever love can be expressed, God

loves perfectly.  It is God’s essential glory that overwhelms us.  He is the wondrous surprise that out-surprises all of our previous wondrous surprises. 

And here is the great story of grace: the Lord is re-making his people from corruptible to incorruptible.  When we fall prostrate in terror, he says, “Fear not!”  Though we were once commanded to remove our shoes, he now calls us to stand in his presence.  When we once had to hide in the cleft of the rock, he now comes to converse face-to-face.  When once we were strangers, his is remaking us to become those who know and who are known.  Those who were lost have been found.  Those without an identity have been given a name.  Those who were dead in their sins have been raised to life.  Those who were slaves to sin have been freed.  Those who were abandoned have been adopted.  Those who despised him have become his friends.  God has called us to become creatures of the same pure essence that we once found unbearable.

What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3.2

This is why we call on him to make his name hallowed in all the earth.  Because we understand the beauty and power of God, because we understand that he is gracious and tender and generous with all who trust him, we understand how important it is for his name to be proclaimed and represented fairly.  This is why he called his disciples to be his witnesses.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. – Acts 1.8

Typically when we associate the word “witness” with Christianity, we think in terms of evangelism, i.e., spreading the good news about how salvation (life) is possible through trusting Jesus as Lord.  This is certainly an appropriate association.  However, the word “witness” has a legal context and should bring to mind what takes place in a courtroom. 

It is deeply ironic, and another indicator of God’s humility, I suppose, that the whole earth stands in judgment of God in Society’s Courtroom.  He calls on his people to be his witnesses.  Why? Because he has fear of the what the Court might do to him?  No, the Court is powerless against him.  He asks for witnesses because he knows that if his case is tried with trumped up information and by people who have no idea what they are talking about, the result will be a false verdict.  And a false verdict will result in disaster for all those who do not know him.  They will remain sheep without a shepherd.  They will be food for the wolves; food for the foxes; food for the lions; even food for the entangling bushes and rocky precipices.

God’s people are to be his witnesses, his evangelists, his apologists, and we are to  call upon him to add his blessings on our efforts to make his name holy throughout the earth.  This is the prayer.  

His honor is at stake, and his honor is especially important for all who would come to understand him aright… for their lives are at stake.  And this is essential to his glory—that he cares for all people on the face of the earth.