I heard Nicole Nordeman’s beautiful ballad “I Am” the other day. It wasn’t the first time I had heard it; her tender reflections upon the many and varied phases of life have always struck a chord deep in my soul. But this time was different. Her dulcet tones were like angel’s wings, bearing a message straight from the heart of God. It was a message that I needed to hear. Maybe you need to hear it, too.
God Introduces Himself to Moses
In Exodus 3, God finds Moses herding his father-in-law’s sheep on the back side of nowhere. We know who Moses is and who he will become because we have the advantage of hindsight. Moses doesn’t have that advantage. All he knows is that he is a wanted man—a failure who allowed his temper to get the best of him.
When God speaks to Moses, it is to give him an assignment. God tells Moses to go back to Egypt—the one place he did not want to go. His job will be to liberate the people of Israel—which, ironically enough, is the one job that Moses knows he cannot do. Moses asks lots of questions and raises lots of objections. God gives him lots of answers. But the most important answer God gives is his name. He is “I am.”
It is a strange way for God to describe himself, isn’t it? Certainly God intends to emphasize His existence and His constancy. God wants Moses to know that He can be counted on, even in the midst of what seems like an impossible assignment.
However, I think that there is more to God’s enigmatic self-designation than may be initially apparent. It seems to me that God has intentionally left the predicate of the sentence open. In doing so, He is inviting Moses to fill in the blank, just so He can say, “Yes, I am that. But I am so much more.”
Jesus Introduces Himself to the World
Not convinced? Think I’m crazy? Remember, Jesus uses the “I am” formula, too; he just uses it in a different way. Throughout the Fourth Gospel, Jesus punctuates his arguments with “I am” statements: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14), and several others (John 6:41, 51; 8:15; 10:7, 9; 11:25; 14:6). Jesus fills in the blank. But so we don’t miss the significance of what he is saying, he also says, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). He leaves one “I am” statement open—just like Yahweh does in Exodus 3.
What’s the point? Simply this. God doesn’t just exist. He exists as the paragon of personhood. Depth, sophistication, wisdom, and goodness are the hallmarks of His character. Moreover, because God’s personhood is so deep and so vast, He is able to be exactly who we need Him to be exactly when we need Him. When we need a strong and wise ruler, He can be that. When we need a compassionate parental figure, He can be that. When we need a gentle healer, He can be that. When we need a righteous judge, He can be that.
It is a good thing that God is so true to His nature and yet so capable of playing multiple roles in our lives. Somewhere in the world today, there is a woman whose spirit is broken by years of physical and sexual abuse. There is a young man who struggles to find direction for his life without the love and guidance of his father. There is an inmate who wonders whether he or she can ever be forgiven. There is a pastor who can no longer bear the endless parade of dirty looks and hateful comments.
For each one of them—for each one of us—the God who created the universe and raised Jesus from the dead has a message. It is the same one He had for Moses over 3,000 years ago. He wants you and me to know that He is the great “I am” and that He stands ready to be the “I am” that we need in the many and varied circumstances of our lives.
There is so much love and so much hope contained within this simple promise that I find it hard to convey with my limited skill as a writer. So, I’ll borrow the words of another singer/songwriter. Mark Schultz (in a song that is also entitled “I Am”) summarizes God’s self-identification, and the message that it entails, this way:
I am the maker of the Heavens
I am the bright and morning star
I am the breath of all Creation
Who always was
And is to come
I am the One who walked on water
I am the One who calmed the seas
I am the miracles and wonders
So come and see
And follow me
You will know
I am the fount of living water
The risen Son of Man
The healer of the broken
And when you cry
I am your savior and redeemer
Who bore the sins of man
The author and perfecter
Beginning and the end