By Eugene C. Scott
I’m a man of mistaken identity. I can’t count the times people have said, “I have a friend who looks just like you.” Sometimes I get mistaken for a celebrity. I know, I know. What can I say? When my hair turned gray, some said I looked like Richard Gere. I made them take it back.
The worst is when people say, “You’re not the Dr. Gene Scott are you?” They always have wry smiles on their faces. (He was a brilliant, crazy, heretical TV preacher) But the joke gets old. Even though it is an honor to be mistaken for famous people or even an infamous preacher (who many would describe as brilliant but crazy–and possibly a heretic), I want to be known as me–not someone else. I am an individual. On the surface I may look, act, and sound like someone else. But if you get to know me, you’ll find out who I really am. Different. Unique.
It seems that God suffers from mistaken identity too.
It’s common today for people to assert that it doesn’t matter which god you believe in or which name you call God because they are all the same. After all, our many gods–at first–look so similar it’s easy to mistake them.
For example, the Hindu gods of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva each represent in turn a creator, sustainer, and ender of life. On the surface this sounds like Christianity’s trinity. Digging deeper, however, you discover the differences between the Hindu gods and the Christian God are as profound as the differences between me and Richard Gere. A simple case of mistaken identity. But a dangerous one.
The late Joseph Campbell–who studied what he called the god myths common in almost every culture on the planet–found so many similarities in the myths that he concluded that humans invented the concept of god and that we endowed these gods with many similar traits because it is human to do so. We invent them in our own image.
Other thinkers, including C.S. Lewis, look at the same facts and conclude that our god myth similarities come from God himself. We take the truths we see about God and attach them to lesser gods of our own invention because we twist and misunderstand the data about the God who does exist.
Still we want all gods to be the same. I understand this belief. Believing this feels better and it is a lot easier to say everyone is right. I once took this tack when people asked me if I preferred to be called Gene or Eugene.
“Whatever you want,” I’d say, not wanting to make them uncomfortable. This backfired and confused them because they would not know what to call me. Worse I was being dishonest. I did care. If I have to go by such an odd–almost goofy–name, I prefer the full version: Eugene. The full version means “well born, noble.” “Gene” just means “origin.” Also Gene could be confused as a girl’s name. Plus I’m a Eugene not a Gene. Eugene describes me better. It fits. And that’s what my mom named me.
Yes, I’ll answer to Gene–or even Tom, Dick, and Harry–for a time. But once you really know me, you will call me by my real name. Otherwise, I will realize you don’t really know me and probably don’t want to.
The same is true for knowing God. Of course we are not talking only about arbitrary naming. Of course a mere meaningless name makes no difference. Names in older times, however, were chosen not by popularity but as a descriptor. They let others know more about you. The core you.
Moses asked the Burning Bush, after God commanded him to confront Egypt about keeping Israel captive, “Who should I say is sending me?”
“I Am,” God named himself. The One who Is, always has Been, always will Be. The One source of all life.
This is important because most other gods only claim to be a part of the source of life such as a river or fertility or the sun or–as in Hinduism–the beginning (Brahma), the middle (Vishnu), or the end (Shiva) of life.
Does it matter what we call God? Yes, just as it is crucial that I call you by your correct name and follow that naming with a knowing, so it is with God. Someone once said, tell me about the god you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that god either. This can only make sense if there are things that are true about God and things that are not true. I cannot be Eugene and Jack, tall and short, vengeful and full of grace all at the same time. It is not possible for me to be the cigar smoking, ranting and raving, cussing, crazy theological wild man Dr. Gene Scott just because you call me by his name.
God is a Being of mistaken identity. This hurts us, the mistaken, more than it does God. Still, just as you and I correct those who call us wrong, God set the record straight.
More on how he did that next Wednesday.