Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 47 - Hallowed Be Your Name
Question 122: What is the first petition?
Answer 122: Hallowed be your name.
Grant us first of all
that we may rightly know you,
and sanctify, glorify, and praise you
in all your works,
in which shine forth
your almighty power,
wisdom, goodness, righteousness,
mercy, and truth.
Grant us also
that we may so direct our whole life —
our thoughts, words, and actions —
that your name is not blasphemed because of us
but always honoured and praised.
In the Lord’s Prayer people ask for everything they need for body and soul (Answer 118). With that description in mind, their first prayer may arouse some surprise. In it they focus all attention to the Name of God. His Name is to be praised, both by them and for their sake. Apparently this first petition is also the first thing they need for themselves — for body and soul.
God has many names. He has just been addressed as our Father. Yet with “your Name” we should not be thinking specifically of his Father name or any of his other designations. What is meant is the Name he makes by his impressive works.
Sometimes a painting by a famous master is not signed. The name of the painter is missing. For true experts this is not a problem. The painting itself shows the name of the artist. In this sense God writes his glorious Name in all his works. It deals here about this Name.
An important work of God is the creation all around us. In nature he is busy every hour, on mountains and in valleys. Creation is his work. No, it is not signed. Yet for those who know God this is not a problem. Nature displays his glorious Name. Without human intervention he allows his sun to make its lengthy orbit every day. With its bright light it reaches all countries. What it radiates from east to west is the glory of its Creator. This is true of all creation. Opinions differ about human works of art and construction. Tastes will vary, but a broad panorama, a mountain range, a sky full of stars is beautiful to everyone. We can see him continually at work everywhere on earth.1 This work can be admired daily. As Creator and Sustainer he is still making a Name for himself.
This first work — nature — particularly reflects his almighty power, wisdom and goodness.
In addition, he is busy saving his creation from certain destruction. That is an entirely different work. He started it when Adam and Eve staged a coup in paradise. Their intent was to erase his great Name from the earth. To prevent that, he sent his Son. This one made sure that his Father’s name remained known and would become known more and more on earth. To him Jesus could therefore characterize his life’s work thus: “I have manifested your Name to the people whom you gave me out of the world (John 17:6). Unlike creation, in this work also shine forth God’s righteousness, mercy and truth.
It was Christ’s mission to shine the light of all God’s virtues into the world. This light means at the same time salvation for his followers.
Therefore, this is the first thing he taught them to ask for.
Six Divine Perfections
God owes his great name to his marvellous perfections.2 The Catechism mentions six of them. That is a lot less than the fourteen found in Article 1 of the Belgic Confession of Faith. Apparently it is not about the number, but about a summary of God’s virtues.
His almighty power is listed first. He can do anything he wants. This is good news in a world where the law of the jungle prevails and heartless egoists impose their will on others. This almighty power is under all circumstances “the omnipotence of his holy love”.3 This gives hope and perspective in the most hopeless situations. The world is not dominated by a super-powerful devil, but by an almighty Father.
In addition, there is his wisdom. He knows everything and has a perfect understanding of what he undertakes. This wisdom shines forth in all that he has made and continues to uphold.4 Even more impressively this wisdom reveals itself in his work of salvation. To the world, the gospel of the crucified Christ is foolishness, but in reality God’s wisdom especially shines in it. 5When the angels in heaven see what will be the end result of God’s saving work (the new humanity) they praise this wisdom.6 We are not ruled by a blind fate or by foolish powers, but by the perfectly wise God. The greatest disasters do not undo this. This gives peace in a world where foolish people make catastrophic miscalculations.
Furthermore, God makes a name for himself by his goodness. He is purely good. Of all the evil that we face daily, nothing comes from him. All that comes from him is only good. Even stronger, all that is good comes from him.7
His righteousness means that he keeps his Word. This refers to both his threats and his wonderful promises. Whoever prays, can be sure that he will fulfill his promises also in this time.8
Then follows his mercy. God is inwardly moved and deeply concerned in his heart with people in need. 9
Finally, there is his truth or faithfulness. Everything changes and grows old, yet his faithfulness and truth shine as brightly as ever. That is why the Bible, with its many promises, is totally contemporary; valid for our day and age.
Together these six characteristics or perfections show his glorious Name. This shines through in everything he is doing. Never does one perfection overshadow the other. All six continuously shine with equal brilliance. His almighty power was evident when he delivered his people from Egypt, but also before this when he made them more and more numerous during the tribulation.10 His omnipotence is not there in fits and starts. Nor is he sometimes more just than merciful. Every perfection has its own radiance and is not eclipsed for a second by another.11 Even during the three hours of darkness on Calvary, God’s virtues shone in full force from his almighty power to his faithfulness. That light shines forth in all his works. How should people respond to that?
Christ can indicate with one key word what is to be done with God’s name. It has to be hallowed, i.e., his name is to be made holy (sanctified), praised and glorified to the ultimate extent.
God is holy, unique, marvellous, to be compared with nothing and no one. “With whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?’ says the Holy One”.12 He is superior in all six of the aforementioned perfections. This superiority or holiness is also his glory or majesty. When angels call him “Holy, holy, holy”, they add in the same breath, “the whole earth is full of his glory”.13
Because he is comparable to no one, all glory belongs to him.14Therefore, nothing is more urgent for humanity than to honour or sanctify God’s name. In the mouth of Christ, therefore, this prayer sounds very urgent.
The rather stilted form of language familiar to us — hallowed be — although correct, obscures the urgent and radical nature of the prayer. The person praying is not thinking of a slow process that will lead sometime in the future to the recognition of God’s name. He is not asking for a gradual, but for the instantaneous fulfillment of the prayer. There is a holy impatience resounding in this petition. God’s name is still being silenced or misused on earth. Let him stand up for his name and sanctify it, right now, once and for all. The Greek language, in which this supplication has been passed on to us, shows this clearly. 15
By its passive form — hallowed be — the prayer formally leaves open the question of who is to sanctify God’s name. He himself or others? In any case, it is he himself. When men fail to do so, he himself will vindicate his great Name. He alone can ensure that his Name is praised. Therefore, let him stand up for himself! That in the first place. But those who pray in this way naturally want to participate themselves. That is why the Catechism explains their prayer in this way: “grant us...that we may sanctify you”. Involve and enable us. Grant it to us that we may praise you. Grant us the grace that your Name will be praised through us and for us. This is only possible when people really know him. That, therefore, is the a-b-c of this first petition.
Grant that We Rightly Know You
The glorious virtues of God do not shine like ordinary suns. Not everyone sees them shining or is pleased by them. Many do not know God. They are blind to his six shining perfections. Television and the Internet allow them to have a global view, yet they have a blind spot for these shining six. Rather, they feel that the world is threatened by an opposite set of six: powerlessness, foolishness, wickedness, injustice, cruelty and deceit. Those are six black monsters instead of six shining suns. No one can ignore the presence of these six monsters. Senseless violence and many other disasters are bitter realities. Every newspaper reports victims of this dark set. Christians are also encountering these. They too experience terrible things. Horrifying images are etched on their retinas. Monstrous powers tyrannize the world.
In such situations, where is the light of God’s six glorious perfections? Where is that light for the victims of brute force, evil, injustice and deceit?
People with a Christian upbringing have come to the painful discovery that they could no longer experience or witness God’s presence in these times. They call it “the eclipse of God” or speak of an “ambiguous deity”.16.
Christians can be greatly hindered by this obscurity. Therefore, that is the first thing Christ taught them to pray for: grant that we may rightly know you, as you really are. Grant that in all the darkness we may have an eye (again) for the light of your goodness and all other virtues. Grant us that we may therefore praise and glorify you. Also today his perfections shine forth in all his works. That is the reality! That is how he is “in truth”. That is what the gospel reveals. Therefore it is indispensable for those who want to know God. And yet, no one gets to know him in truth without his help. Those who consult the Bible only as a human source of information will not arrive at the truth. No one can get to know God by himself, even with the help of the Bible. That is why Christians—who faithfully read their Bibles! — pray urgently: Grant that we may rightly know you.
Glorify and Praise Him
For how long is there reason to praise God’s name? Is there a possibility that his judgments become so severe that there is no motive left to praise him? Christians can lose sight of his shining perfections. They may have a feeling that the light of his mercy and other virtues has disappeared.17 In reality, the radiance shines unabated in full force. God’s perfections also shine for the benefit of his people. Therefore, they can never praise him enough. Never does God think that they regard his loving omnipotence, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy or faithfulness in a too-positive manner. Thanks to Christ, God is there for them with all his shining perfections. Therefore, even in the darkest hours, they can never expect too much from him.
One day the earth will bask in the radiance of all his virtues. The guarantee of this is that Christ will continue to work until the whole earth acknowledges and praises God’s name.
The praise and glory to God is given the highest priority in this prayer. At the same time, this is the first thing we need for body and soul. For to know him and to praise him is life. In John 17:3 we hear Christ say to his Father, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Looking at it from that angle, this is a prayer for eternal life.
God is Honoured “Because of Us”
Grant us that we may praise you. That is what we have been talking about so far. What about the honouring of God for our sake? That is a completely different perspective. Then it is not ourselves who honour him, but others. These are mostly outsiders, because God is not honoured by them on account of his virtues but because of us. They are looking at our way of living. It is therefore not very deep. God’s Name can just as quickly be blasphemed “because of us” as soon as we fail in their eyes. They base their judgment of God — whether positive or negative — purely on their experience with Christians.
Thus, there is plenty to discredit about the words of praise or vilification of these outsiders. All of that is true, yet in one respect God says they are right: honouring him comes down to our practical life. Outsiders often see this more keenly than Christians themselves.
When David lusted after Bathsheba, he had her husband Uriah moved out of the way. He did not recognize how evil this was. A warning light did not even turn on for him when the prophet Nathan presented him with a similar offense through a fictional story: a rich farmer had appropriated and slaughtered a poor man’s only lamb. Even though that offense was far less serious, David pronounced the death sentence on that man right on the spot.18
David did not realize how hypocritical he was acting. Others had long been speaking shamefully of this crime and because of this these enemies scorned God.19
Christians feel no better than David. They live in a glass houses. Their words and actions are being watched. They can easily give rise to slander. They pray that this may be prevented. They go one step further and desire that God’s name “always be honoured and praised” for their sake. Apparently, that is possible! What should they do to achieve that?
The Catechism speaks in a manner that is both sober and radical. It does not tell Christians that they must at all times and places turn the conversation to the glory of God. They cannot constantly praise him with their thoughts, words and actions. So they do not ask for it either, but they pray: Grant us that we may direct our whole life to your glory. They pray for the right mentality. When they keep the name of God in view, it moulds their way of thinking, talking and doing. Such lives will not escape the people’s attention.
In earlier days people used to put an oil lamp on a high stand to light up the whole room. “In the same way let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Jesus said this to those who had just received his well-known beatitudes. Through this they had everything they needed to be blessed and to experience happiness. This was evident in all their actions. They no longer had to stand up for themselves. That stood out in that society. They were humble, kind, helpful, just, peace-loving, and willing to endure defamation and persecution.20
The light of God’s mercy and other virtues spontaneously shone from their way of life. Jesus speaks to them of “your” light, but of course he means the light of God’s mercy that shines forth from their good works. He calls on them to let “people” enjoy this wholesome light. For many people it is the only way in which the light of God’s virtues can still reach them. When “people” speak positively about the way they are treated by Christians, they are indirectly praising God’s name. And who knows what effect this may have.
This first petition sets the tone for this prayer. Children ask their Father what they want and need in the first place: grant that we honour you with our entire life. This prayer is an extension of their only comfort. After all, it belongs to this comfort that Christ makes them willing to live henceforth for God (Answer 1). The first petition readily links up to this.