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What’s in a Name?

From the series:

by Ann Maree Goudzwaard

I have a rather difficult name. Ever since I was a child I’ve had to explain it. I have two first names but no middle name, and, for some reason, this doesn’t make sense to people. Additionally, “Ann Maree” doesn’t roll naturally off the tongue. Typically, folks (my mom included!) will shorten my name to “Ann,” which is my least favorite name out of any of the multitude of options. Often times, the name that people prefer to call me is “Mary Ann.” I find myself paying attention when I hear that name to make sure no one is talking to me. In high school, I got tired of explaining my two first names. I told people to just call me “George.”

These days I’ll answer to just about anything.

Not everyone is indifferent to what they are called. New moms, for instance, will firmly correct anyone who assigns their child a nickname. People in the academic world will insist that their name include the appropriate title(s). Many people self-identify by a particular mental health diagnosis or personality disorder; “I’m Bipolar,” or “I’m OCD,” or “I am an extrovert/introvert.” These names have a way of helping us explain who we are.

God is not indifferent to names. He governs his own with considerable care. No one is allowed to take his name in vain (Ex. 20:7). Obedience is motivated by simply remembering his name (Ps. 119:55). And by stating his name, we ascribe to him proper glory (Deut. 32:3).

The significance of a name is seen in the process of naming in the Bible. The Creation account begins with God assigning features of his new world with specific names; light, dark, day, evening, heaven, and water. In the Garden, God gave Adam the responsibility (and subsequent authority) to name the animals (Gen. 2:19). Adam named his wife (Gen 2:23; 3:20). Satan enticed Eve to believe she would be better off if she changed her name (Gen. 3:5).

In Scripture, names can characterize a person’s mission. God changed Abram to Abraham because he made him the father of a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:5). God changed Jacob’s name to Israel because he struggled with God and with men and prevailed (Gen. 32:28). Lamech called Noah his name because he would bring relief (Gen. 5:29). The Lord told Hagar to name her child Ishmael because the Lord listened to her affliction (Gen. 16.11).

But, names tend to be intimidating in the counseling room. Names such as manic depressive, chemically deficient, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) all seem to add a layer of difficulty to helping a person in our care. Health care professionals admit that they don’t necessarily take these names at face value. Mental disorders are diagnosed by observation, and each person and problem is unique. In order to discern what someone means by their diagnostic name it is necessary to ask how they experience the diagnosis. This practice will demystify the mental health labels, and help biblical counselors and disciplers discern biblical solutions for those labeled with the name.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the Bible cures Bipolar (or Schizophrenia, or Dysphoria, or…) However, anyone struggling from the physical, spiritual, and emotional effects of The Fall will find hope in the word of God. Its rich, transformative language provides new, life-changing names intended to refocus our hearts from our suffering to our Savior. Lost become Found, Sinners become Saints, Aliens become Sons and Daughters, Old men are made New, Unclean become Clean, Enemies are Chosen, Weak are made Strong, the Divided are United, Prodigals become Beloved Children.

This year’s IBCD 2019 Training Institute, Identity Crisis, is an opportunity to sit under the teaching of several wise teachers who will help us understand these wonderful names. Dr. Deepak Reju will train us to think about our identity as “Chosen.” Dr. Jeremy Pierre will speak to us about sin and its effect on our identities. Dr. Keith Palmer will encourage us with his teaching on our union with Christ. He notes that this aspect of Christianity should be at the nerve center of our identity. In a special shared session, Deepak and Jeremy will explain our sanctification highlighting how we can join into God’s work of sanctification and become Saints. Dr. Greg Gifford will help us to walk in our identity as a Child of God, with the call to resemble our Heavenly Father. Finally, Dr. Jim Newheiser will lift our eyes to our future glorification.

Our future identity, as glorified saints, surely affects our behavior and perception in the here and now. These teachers, along with numerous workshop leaders, will help us to apply the word of God to our counseling. Learning the names that the Lord calls us will offer transformative hope and help for the hurting.