Near the beginning of John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run the main character Rabbit and his wife Janet are having a minor tiff while Janet watches Mickey Mouse Club on TV. Chief adult Mousketeer Jimmy appears onscreen and the following takes place, beginning with Jimmy’s words:
“God doesn’t want a tree to be a waterfall or a flower to be a stone. God gives to each one of us a special talent.” Janice and Rabbit became unnaturally still. Both are Christians. God’s name makes them feel guilty.
While ignoring the mistake that “God” is not God’s name, I can nonetheless relate to what was portrayed here.
God was not talked about in my Christian home when I was growing up. Apparently my parents either thought it was inappropriate or they didn’t know what to say because they didn’t know anything about Him, so the safe thing was not to talk about Him at all. Such was the spiritual legacy I inherited.
For a while at age nine I had an interest in the Bible, from reading a Bible stories book for adults that my Grandmother owned. I even asked my parents to give me a real Bible of my own, a request that surprised them, but they happily complied. Because the real thing is more difficult to understand, and being given no instruction, my interest cooled quickly.
When I was in fourth grade I had to get up and read a paragraph from a book I had read in front of my class. It included some proverb that included words to the effect ‘… and God makes things grow.’ Because I was embarrassed to say “God” in front of my class — or in front of anyone — I read instead ‘… and some word I don’t know makes things grow.’ My teacher did a double-take, knowing I was an excellent reader and would at least make a stab at some unfamiliar word, and called me on it, but she did not know the content of what I was attempting to read. Somehow I bluffed my way through it without having to say “God,” but I was doubly embarrassed for being caught in what amounted to a lie.
By the time I was a teenager my father acquired the belief that it would be appropriate to say grace before dinner each night. Because he didn’t know what to say himself, nor did any of the rest of us, he used a book of flowery, sentimental and religious sounding prewritten prayers he’d found somewhere, and each night would read one of them out of the book, a longer or shorter one depending on how hungry everyone was. My three younger brothers and I, perhaps intuitively sensing the inappropriateness of reading written prayers, would titter and make jokes about my father’s newfound eccentricity.
Things changed later. In 1971 I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thereafter I became Prayin’ Sam for our family. Whenever I visited, and a need for one to pray would arise, because I was now viewed as religiously credentialed, especially once they learned that I was serving as an elder in my local congregation, with responsibilities of teaching and taking the lead in spiritual matters, I would be called upon to render the service.
But to use Jehovah’s name in prayer to some people who don’t know or recognize the Bible truth that Jehovah is in fact His real self-given name, that name being used as such in the original manuscripts nearly 7000 times, a Biblical fact that escaped them despite a lifetime of sporadic churchgoing, would be from their vantage point to pray to the God of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which most of my relatives clearly did not want to become.
But it is not necessary to address God by his personal name each and every time, any more than it is to call a person by name, there being any number of substitutions that can be made. So in such prayers I would generally address Jehovah as “God,” or as “Heavenly Father,” both entirely appropriate. Of course, in doing so I was nonetheless always praying to Jehovah all along. And when those in behalf of whom I was asked to pray said “Amen,” which they always did, they too thereby prayed to Jehovah.
Ha! Got ’em!