“Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” Gen. 2:19
This passage is very revealing in what it teaches about the relationship God chooses to form with us. It shows us how our Father delights and is keenly interested in how we participate in the act of finalizing creation. When we read how the Lord brought the animals to man “to see what he would name them,” it implies a certain amount of uncertainty that we don’t usually ascribe to God. He is curious about our response, waiting for us to put the final label on what He has created, to define it according to our relationship to it. Perhaps this delight is the same as that of a father giving a kitten to his child and waiting to see what she will call it.
A name, of course, is more than a label. It is a word of relationship that expresses the impression we have of something, of how we respond to the thing before us. In this way, God leaves the interpretation of His creation up to us. I wonder if the relationship that is implied in this passage is also the template through which God invites us to name the various circumstances of our lives. Does He still bring things before us in order to see what we will name them?
What are the ‘names’ we put to the life we find brought before us? Fearful? Opportunity? Good? Bad? Punishment? Reward? Success? Failure? A test? A blessing? How do we interpret circumstances as they appear before our eyes? And how does the ‘name’ we give to various life experiences contribute to our experience of that very life? “And whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”
The naming of things is one of the more noble privileges of being co-workers with God, but it can also be a two-edged sword if we’re not careful with the names we choose. Adam would’ve been in big trouble if he had inadvertently chosen to call a sabre-tooth tiger, “Cuddles.” God is very attentive to how we name the various experiences in our lives because these names create lasting impressions in us, and in His work with us.
Jesus once told His disciples “what is bound on earth is bound in heaven.” We should be not be too hasty in choosing names or labels for experiences or other people. But we can also be grateful that, in Christ, old names that no longer apply can also be exchanged for new ones.
Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for July 21, 2005)
For Group Discussion:
- Think of a particular situation(s) in your life and how you have responded to it. What does that tell you about your relationship to it?
- Is there a circumstance or person you have ‘named’ which God might encourage you to re-think?
- Could this question also apply to parts of yourself which you have labelled? How might these be offered to God?
For Prayer: O God, we look to you for who we truly are. Save us from mis-naming our experiences in life, people around us, or even ourselves. We thank you for your great mercy in changing our names to new ones.