What is God's Name?
by Charles Harper
, MY HERO OUTREACH
(Laguna Beach, CA)
Area: Other subject
Level: K-4, 5-8, 9-12, college
Welcome to the wonder-filled world of faith heroes. Engaging your students in
a meaningful discussion about the heroes of their faith traditions will open many new doors of understanding for your students and you.
It is our hope that students will discover that, while their faith heroes have different names, they have a lot more in common than they may have thought.
What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue by Richard M. Landau, MA.
MY HERO's section devoted to Heroes of Faith
Belief.net is the world's foremost Web site dedicated to faith-related issues.
The MY HERO FORUM, How should we choose our heroes?
In the Bible you can find not one, but several different names for God, including
Yahweh, Elohim, and El Shaddai. These are all Hebrew Testament names for one and the same God and are sometimes used interchangeably. In the Christian Testament, God might be referred to as Abba or Jehovah.
If you were to travel to other cultures, you could, of course, find other names for God. Native Americans speak of Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit or the Holy Spirit. In Africa, the Zulus speak of God as Unkulukulu, simply translated as "Big," while the Upanishads refer to Atman, which means "Universal Soul or Spirit."
Currently, in many branches of the Christian church, there is considerable debate on whether to refer to God as a she, a he, or an it. And of course, the Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists all have their own names for God, spiritual guides and/or deities.
Now are these all different Gods or simply different names for the same God?
I'm inclined to believe that they are simply different names, and yet we are inclined to sometimes make an idol out of the name we use for God. In the name of God, how many "Holy Wars" have been fought? And if there was ever an oxymoron, surely that is one, for there is nothing holy about a "Holy War."
And yet as we all know, in the Middle East, in Bosnia, India and here in America, people are still hurting and killing each other because they use different names for God.
Back in the Hebrew Testament again, we remember when Moses was commissioned
by God to liberate the Israelites, and Moses asked God for a Name--a calling card, if you will--and God said quite enigmatically, "I am that I am..." Now why did God say that? It was as if God knew the trouble, divisiveness and the self-righteousness that can come from the different names we use for God. The fact that in the Bible there is not one, but many different names for God should lead us to be more tolerant of those who may use a different name.
1. Talk to students about some of the characteristics you have found in your
faith hero(es)*. These might include examples of honesty, humility, humor, courage, kindness, sincerity, curiosity.
2. Divide the class into small groups without regard to their particular religious tradition. Ask each group to write a list of characteristics that define their faith heroes without naming their particular hero.
3. Ask each group to present their list of "Faith Hero" characteristics and write them on the chalkboard. Note the common characteristics of their faith heroes.
4. Ask each group to make a list of the names they use in talking about "something bigger than their normal sense of self."
5. Ask each group to read the names they generated and write the names on the
6. Ask the class: "Do words such as God, Allah, Muhammad, Jesus, Abraham, spirit, higher self, higher power, intuition, Buddha-nature, conscience, Isis all refer basically to the same thing(s)?
*NOTE: For me, a faith hero can be described as any person living or dead whose life and teachings have helped me:
a. become a more loving, kind, forgiving, serene person;
b. connect more deeply with a higher self, Great Spirit or another name by which I call God;
c. become more aware of myself, particularly my shortcomings and the need for guidance from a power greater than myself;
d. overcome ego obstacles (fear, pride, envy, etc.) that cause me unnecessary
e. be in the present without regard for the past or the future.
Hopefully, students will have greater
religious tolerance as a result of this project.