There was a time when I desperately wanted to be called Elizabeth. I longed for a name that was classical and romantic, preferably with at least three syllables for dramatic flair. As far as I was concerned, the name I had wasn’t a proper name at all—it was a thing. A crystal is a repetitive formation of molecules—not a person.
Sometime in upper elementary school, I even began developing a theory about how I came by such a name. It centered on the timing of my debut into the world. I was born in 1978, in the middle of the post-hippie/pre-yuppie era. It was a time when names like Rainbow, Coyote, and Sunbeam were falling out of vogue—giving way to Stephanie, Nicholas, and Michelle. I figured Crystal must’ve been a nice compromise—sort of a tamed-down nature name, if you will. My parents maintain that they were simply struck by the beautiful imagery associated with the name—and I believe them. Still, my little theory is vindicated by the statistics—in my small-town-high-school graduating class of roughly 150, there were five Crystals. Coincidence? I think not.
I’m pretty comfortable with Crystal now. It’s nice enough…and it’s what I’ve always been called. But I still anticipate a name change someday.
God does that, you know.
Abram (exalted father) became Abraham (father of a multitude). Sarai (my princess) became Sarah (princess/princess of a multitude). Jacob (heel grabber/deceiver) became Israel (he who strives with God). Simon (obedient) became Peter (rock). And, in the case of John the baptist and Jesus, God simply preempted the process and dictated what their names would be before they were born. Each of these individuals was given a name that reflected some quality, characteristic, or potential within them.
When God gives a name, it has significance.
It can be argued that this is nothing more than God’s way of interacting with the culture. In the ancient near east, names did have a great deal of significance. And it wasn’t uncommon for a prince or ruler to bestow a new name on someone they wished to honor.
It may be that God was specifically engaging the culture. But is that all there is to it?
Have a look at Revelation 2:17:
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’
I don’t know what the “hidden manna” is and I can’t tell you if the “white stone” is literal or symbolic. But I do know that this is future. This is a promise to the faithful of all times and cultures. God has a name for each of us—and it means something.
Even our most intense introspection will not plumb the depths of what God sees when he looks at us. Certainly he sees false motives, selfishness, wickedness and unimaginable ugliness that we, ourselves, don’t fully recognize. But he also sees all that is lovely, redeemable, precious, and pure within us. He sees untold beauty and potential—and those are the things that will remain after we win the final battle with sin. Those are the things that make up who we really are—unique reflections of the image of our good and glorious God.
I don’t know what those names written on the white stones will look like or sound like, but you can bet they are rich with significance. I believe our new names will disclose who God sees when he looks at us—who we are and who we can become.
As much as I appreciate that my parents gave me a nice name, a part of me has always wanted my name to reflect more than my parents’ preferences or the era I was born into. Someday it will.
God knows me. He has plans for me. He has a name for me. That name is not just an attractive sound with a pleasant or striking connotation—it means who I am. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to get my white stone.
Interestingly, Revelation is not the first place in the Bible where name-bearing stones are mentioned. In Exodus 28, we find that Aaron, the high priest wore two onyx stones on his shoulders, each engraved with the names of six of the tribes of Israel. He also wore a breastplate inlaid with twelve precious stones. And, you guessed it—each one was engraved with the name of one of the twelve tribes. The Bible specifically says that Aaron was to bear these representative names on his shoulders and on his heart when he ministered before the Lord—as the mediator for God’s people.
In Hebrews (3, 4, & 6), we learn that Jesus is now our heavenly high priest and mediator. He bore the consequence of our sins on his shoulders and he continually bears our names on his heart as he intercedes for us.
Aaron, as mediator, was entrusted with the names of the tribes of Israel. Jesus, as mediator, is entrusted with the names of the redeemed. It is interesting to note that in heaven, when we no longer need a mediator, we are each entrusted with a stone bearing our own name. Think on that one for a while…
As fascinating and exciting as all that is, it is important to remember that I don’t have to wait till then to start learning my true identity. God wants me to know who I am—even now. As I watch and listen, and open my life to him, he will show me glimpses of who he sees when he looks at me. And the more of those insights I am able to embrace, the more I will approach this life armed with the truth—the truth of who I am, who God is, and what his intentions are for me.
And just so you know, I’m not holding out for Elizabeth any more, but I am still kinda hoping for the three or more syllables of dramatic flair.