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Erin Bird

The Rev. Erin Bird 

Riverwood Church

Here in Iowa, when you first meet someone, you typically exchange names. (I’m Erin, by the way. Nice to meet you.) Then, after the initial sharing of names, the conversation usually shifts into a tennis match of questions: “So, what do you do for a living? Where did you grow up? How long have you lived in your current place?” Each question is an attempt to discover the person behind the name.

However, these questions rarely ever capture who you truly are. You are so much more than your job, your hometown, or who your favorite sports team is. (Except for Cubs fans. That’s about all they are known for. (Just kidding!)) Behind your name is a person with dreams, values, personality traits, and more. So let me ask you: if your friends, coworkers, family, or neighbors were asked to describe the person behind your name, what might they say?

Behind the Name of God

In Exodus 34, God had a conversation with the famous Jewish prophet Moses. To make sure Moses knew exactly with whom he was talking, God shared His name: “YWHW” (often pronounced “Yahweh” which simply means “I Am.” Most English translations simply translate it “the Lord.”)

But God didn’t stop with just His name. In verse 6, He began to describe who He is behind the name. And what was the first descriptor God gave? Compassionate.

As a pastor, I have met people who would first describe God as demanding, or angry, or judgmental. Yet, Romans 2:4 tells us it is God’s kindness that leads people to repentance. Too many parents (myself included) have at times thought a stern presence or demanding tone would elicit an apology from a disobedient child. But God approaches us differently. It isn’t sternness that draws us to Him – it’s His compassion.

As a Jesus-follower, I see this compassion in the cross. While some theologians argue that the Father sending His only begotten Son to a cross is divine child abuse, I actually see it as kindness toward me. You see, Jesus wasn’t forced against His will to go through the cross. He willingly went. He knew the penalty for sin was death, but if humans paid their own penalty, they would remain separated from their Creator. So out of His compassion for a sin-enslaved people, Jesus willingly went to a cross so humans could be made spiritually free.

So through the cross, Jesus displayed the compassion of YWHW. But let’s take this idea one step further.

Known for Compassion

According to orthodox Christianity, when God created humans, He made them differently than the rest of creation. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us God created men and women “in His image.” In other words, humans were given an intellect, personality, will, and responsibility.

Which means, while you are not God, you are to be like God, for you bear His image. And what is God like? He is a lot of things, but the first way in which God wanted to be known was “compassionate.”

In our divisive political climate, let me encourage you to be compassionate like your Creator. Rather than seek to argue someone down, may you build them up with kindness.

That way, when your friends and family get asked who lies behind your name, perhaps the first word they will say is “compassionate.”

The Rev. Erin Bird is the founder and pastor of Riverwood Church in Waverly.