On “Being”

October 8, 2023 by Charlie Hedges − 0 Comments

When you get your, Who am I? question right, then all of your, What should I do? questions tend to take care of themselves.Richard Rohr 

I’m loving the quote above. At first read, it seems obvious: Who I am naturally guides what I do. Essence (or ontology) precedes action. However, actions and essence are truly synergistic. Essence guides action, but action informs essence (“you will know Who I am by What I do). The two are distinct as much as they are intertangled.


This leads me to a most enlightening discussion on the nature of God. In the Book of Exodus Moses asks God to reveal his name. The response, in the Hebrew language, can be translated a couple ways. The traditional translation is “I am who I am.” “I exist” saith the Lord. I totally agree with this common translation of Essence.


But there is an alternative translation as well. In the Hebrew text, God’s answer is written in the future tense which translates, “I will be who I will be.” Or… “you will know me by what I do.” (NOTE: without getting into a grammatical discourse, suffice it to say that modern translators go with the present tense.)

In seminary, we had several in-depth discussions about this, and I came away with accepting both translations. Considering the common translation, “I am” we find a statement of being or, as stated above, of existence. We can’t even consider the notion of God if we don’t believe in the existence of God.

Essence Before Action

In fact, in medieval mystical text, The Cloud of Unknowing, the anonymous author says, “THAT God is holds greater value than WHAT God does.” According to the unknown author, God must “be” before God can “do.”

BUT, there is also the truth that we know God by his actions. For that reason, I love the “future tense translation” of the Hebrew text where God states, “I will be who I will be,” says God to Moses. In other words, “If you want to know who I am, then watch me work.” After which Moses and the people of Israel witnessed the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea—a strong statement of power over nature and Egypt’s ruler.

An Active Essence

So we find in the text that God is an active essence and God’s actions are predicated on his nature of goodness, love, and grace (qualities found largely in Bonaventure). Against what many believe, God is limited. God cannot do anything apart from his nature. Only we are not limited. But we CAN go against our nature. Quoting St Paul, “Why do I do what I don’t want to do…”

Terry Hershey is quite fond of preaching about “being comfortable in your own skin.” What Terry is talking about is a sort of grounding is your own essence or nature.

You have a choice: know your own nature and act accordingly. Or, once again, “Be like God.”

Your Own Nature

Is Your Own Compass

Photo courtesy of wildpixel at istockphoto

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