Part 2 – God the Father – Week 3

Part 2 – God the Father – Week 3

Last week we saw that God’s ‘name’ – ‘I am who I am’ – contains an inevitable aspect of mystery and transcendence. But with this qualification in place, Ratzinger begins to examine the positive aspect of God’s name, of what He is revealing of Himself through the title ‘I am’ in the larger context of the I-You relationship that is descriptive of God’s very being. In the first place, Ratzinger tells us, the name ‘I am’ actually reveals God’s closeness: He is not just Being-in-itself but Being-for, He is telling man that His very name is ‘I am here for you’. But that is not all. For God is also saying that as opposed to everything else that changes, as opposed to all the ups and downs of human life and history, He simply ‘is’. He is not fickle, He does not ‘repent’ about His decision to be ‘for’ or ‘toward,’ He does not desert us in spite of our unfaithfulness. Instead, He ‘is’, He is the rock and the sure foundation, the constant on which we can truly count, the unchanging ‘I am here for you’ who gives meaning and hope to our lives.


“So far of course we have only been looking at half the situation, for Moses was in fact empowered all the same to say to the questioners: “I AM has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14). He has an answer at his disposal, even if it is a riddle. And can we not, indeed must we not, un-riddle it a bit in a positive sense? Most contemporary biblical scholars see in the phrase the expression of helpful proximity; they say that God does not reveal in it – as philosophical thought tries to – his nature as it is in itself, he reveals himself as a God for Israel, as a God for man. “I am” is as much as to say “I am there”, “I am there for you”; God’s presence for Israel is emphasized; his Being is expounded not as Being in itself, but as a Being-for. […]

When God here calls himself “I AM”, he is to be explained, according to [the French scholar Edmond] Jacob, as he who “is”, as Being in contrast to Becoming, as that which abides and persists in all passing away. “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. . . . The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever” (Is 40:6-8). The reference to this text indicates a connection which hitherto has probably been given too little attention. To the Deutero-Isaiah it was a fundamental part of his message that the things of this world pass away; that men, however forcefully they behave, are in the end like flowers, which bloom one day and are cut off and withering away the next, while in the midst of this gigantic display of transience the God of Israel “is” – not “becomes”. Amid all the becoming and passing away he “is”. But this “is” of God, who abides above all the inconstancy of becoming as the constant one, is not proclaimed as something unconnected with anything else. On the contrary, God is at the same time he who grants himself; he is there for us and from his own firm standing he gives us firmness in our infirmity. The God who “is” is at the same time he who is with us; he is not just God in himself; rather, he is our God, the “God of our fathers”. […]

The Deutero-Isaiah is speaking, as is well known, at the end of the Babylonian exile, at a moment when Israel is looking into the future with new hope. The apparently invincible Babylonian power which had enslaved Israel has been broken and Israel, the supposed corpse, is arising out of the ruins. Thus one of the prophets’ central ideas is to compare with gods that pass away the God who is. “I, Yahweh, the first, and with the last, I am He” (41:4). The last book of the New Testament, the Apocalypse, in a similarly difficult situation, was to repeat this assertion: before all these powers he stands already, and after them he still stands (Rev 1:4; 1:17; 2:8; 22:13). But let us listen once again to the Deutero-Isaiah: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (44:6). “I am He, I am the first, and I am the last” (48:12). In this context the prophet has coined a new formula, in which the interpretative thread in the story of the burning bush is taken up and given a different emphasis. The formula which in Hebrew seems mysteriously to run simply “I-He” is rendered in Greek, and certainly with accuracy, as “I am”. In this simple “I am” the God of Israel confronts the gods and identifies himself as the one who is, in contrast to those who have been toppled over and pass away. The brief, enigmatic phrase “I am” thus becomes the axis of the prophet’s proclamation, expressing his struggle against the gods, his struggle against Israel’s despair, and his message of hope and certainty. In face of the worthless pantheon of Babylon and its fallen potentates the might of Yahweh rises simply, needing no commentary, in the expression “I am”, which describes its absolute superiority to all the godly and ungodly powers of this world.”


Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 [20002], 128-131.




Reflect back on your life, on the triumphs and defeats, on the moments of joy and those oh hardship, on the beautiful and the ugly. Try to discover the constant, loving presence of God in everything you have been through, sharing the good, and carrying you through the difficult. Renew your gratitude and trust in God. Ask for renewed faith, to be able to find Him in all the moments of your life.

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