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Before my senior year of college, the summer before we got married, Susie and I spent the summer apart. Susie worked as Camp Aide Co-Director at Miracle Camp and I did an internship at Desiring God, specifically at Children Desiring God in Minneapolis, MN.
When my friend, Brian Eaton, was gracious enough to accept me for the internship even after he said no such internship exists, he found a basement apartment for me to live in.
That basement apartment happened to be in the basement of Joe Rigney.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to interact with Joe throughout the summer very much as he and his family were on vacation for most of it, but I really enjoyed chatting with him the few times we did interact.
In December of last year, Joe published a book with Crossway. The Things of Earth is Joe’s way of encouraging us to enjoy the pleasures of life in light of the grace of God. The little things like crispy bacon, college football, and starry nights are all good things to be enjoyed.
In chapter two of his book, he wrote a particularly helpful section called, “God Is the Author, the Main Character, and More” (pg. 58-60). Read and be encouraged:
Begin with God’s revelation of himself to Moses in Exodus 3. God reveals himself in two ways: as “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14) and as “LORD” (Yahweh) (3:15), the name by which he is to be remembered throughout all generations.
“I AM WHO I AM” emphasizes that God is the independent, self-existing one. He is not ultimately defined by anything outside of himself. As we saw in the first chapter, he is self-sufficient, absolute, independent, autonomous. He has no needs or unmet desires. He existed before creation and apart from creation. As Paul says, God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25). He is perfectly and infinitely and completely happy in the fellowship of the Godhead.
So when God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” he is emphasizing his God-ness, his independent and self-sufficient existence.
The name Yahweh, on the other hand, stresses God’s relationship to his creation, the reality that he is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Ex. 3:15). God’s memorial name binds him to the world he’s made and particularly to his covenantal people. He is Yahweh, a God merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ex. 34:6).
What’s more, some Hebrew scholars believe that the name Yahweh is actually based on the causative form of the Hebrew verb hayah, “to be.” These scholars argue that we should interpret the name Yahweh as “The One Who Causes All Things to Be That Are,” or “The Causer of All Things” for short. Thus, the name Yahweh stresses the absolute sovereignty of God over all creation.
Think of it this way: C. S. Lewis has existence apart from Narnia. Even if the Narinian chronicles were never written, C. S. Lewis would still exist. Thus, C. S. Lewis simply is who he is, apart from Narnia. However, in relation to Narnia, he is also the causer of all things that are. Narnia has no existence apart from him; therefore, were he to reveal himself in Narnia, Narnians could call him the Causer of All Things. So too with God. Apart from creation, he is God, I AM, the self-existent one. But in relation to creation, he is Yahweh, the causer of all things. Thus, “I AM” emphasizes God-as-God; Yahweh emphasizes God-as-author.
Now here’s the amazing thing: how do we know that God is God? How do we know that God is the author, the causer of all things? We know because God reveals it to Moses in a burning bush, at a particular time, in a particular place. In other words, we come to know that God is self-existent and that he is the author because God reveals himself as a character within the story. God is not merely the one in whom we live and move and have our being. He is also the one who speaks to Abraham at Mount Moriah, who leads Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud and fire, and who makes his presence to dwell in the temple in Jerusalem.
God-as-author and God-as-character mean that we can view God’s relationship to the world in complementary ways. On the one hand, he is transcendent and high and lifted up, looking far down upon the children of man. He is the Alpha and Omega, relation to creation atemporally, outside of time. If history is a great river, he views the entire sweep of it—twists and turns and all—in one simple, comprehensive glance from his heavenly mountain.
On the other hand, from the beginning, he enters into his story as a character, walking with his creatures and engaging with them as fellow characters, rejoicing over their successes and grieving over their losses. God doesn’t merely survey the river from above; he also rides the rapids with us, hands waving wildly in the air. This is the God who weeps, the God who repents, the God who changes his mind. This is the God who, though unchanging, becomes flesh and dwells among us.
This is what the incarnation is all about—the author of the story becoming not just a character, but a human character. In this narrative, God is the storyteller and the main character. He is the bard and the hero. He authors the fairy tale and then comes to kill the dragon and get the girl.
Amen. This is the mystery and miracle of the incarnation.