If you’re like me, it’s very difficult to remember the names of people that you have just met or who you see only occasionally and do not know well. Once, my wife and I attended a church where the pastor, who we really enjoyed, could never remember her name, mispronounced it, or called her something else altogether. We’ve all done it. Once is easily forgotten, but this kind of serial forgetfulness begins to make us feel less of a person, like someone without a name.
Frank Zappa can name his kids Dweezle and Moon for whatever weird and inexplicable reasons (although the naming may have had something to do with illegal controlled substances), but naming is a sobering as well as exciting prospect for most of us. A child is born, and we labor over the right name, a name that they will hopefully grow into, aspire to, or be influenced by the legacy of. Somehow, that name becomes a part of their identity and even summons up the essence of who they are or will be. When we say their name, the mere word is a icon for who they are, a way of seeing into the essence of who they will or have already become.
Naming, if you recall, is one of the first activities of the Creator. “And God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). After pronouncing it good and separating light from darkness, we’re told that “He called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night” (Gen. 1:5). After a few days he gets around to man, who He says is made in His image, a being named man, meaning Adam. What does the image-bearer do? All we are told is that he is placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it,” (Gen. 1:15) and even to eat of all but one of its trees. But then it is said that God brought all the animals to Adam and “whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Gen. 1:19). He names, and then we name. We image Him. He even names his woman Eve, which means life-giver, and that having occurred after sin had entered Eden, one wonders if this was a mark of rebellion, God being the only true life-giver. Surely names are given spitefully or in spite of a person’s true character, as well as for more noble reasons.
All this is to say that naming is an important part of our cultural task, of what we make of the world --- so important, in fact, that Jesus calls us by name. What does it mean to say he calls us by name? What I take from it is that he is calling us to be who we are in Him, our real Self, the one He created and, but for the brokenness caused by sin, the Self we would be. Calling us by name also demonstrates His sovereignty over us, not the rule of a dictator but the “ownership” of a father over a child and with it the love he has for that child. I am known. I am loved. I am challenged to be who I can be in Christ.
Somehow it’s more than (dare I say) simply that He loves us, as amazing as that is. After all, he loves some people I consider annoying or who have habits I detest. What gives? Sure, love means He overlooks those things. But there’s more to it. I think He likes me, that is, the Me that is really Me, the one He made, the one I can be through Him. I think about my own children. I love them like any parent would (or should). More than that, I like them. I like not just who they are but who they can, by God’s grace, become (as they do not always act like who I believe they can be). Sometimes I can see through the things that may annoy me about them to what I really like about them. Then I know that God does the same with me. He knows me. He loves me. He likes me. It’s a big deal to me that there’s a like in His love, that He calls me by name. You’re loved, of course, but have you ever thought about God liking you?