“Hallowed Be Thy Name”: What Are We Saying?
By Randy Thompson
The Lord’s Prayer is not complicated or long. We pray it out of habit, which is good because the Lord taught us to pray this prayer. But, our familiarity with the prayer encourages us to think we understand it better than we do. Our prayerful intentions are genuine, but our minds glide over the surface of the words like a skater on ice when it comes time to pray it, and we too often fail to note its spiritual depth. We think we know what we’re saying, but . . .
. . . Our Father in heaven? Yep. We get it, “Abba, daddy” and all that. “Your Kingdom come”? The end times or the Second Coming, or something like that, right? We’re looking forward to a happy ending. Great! We may not know exactly what we’re asking for here, but we have the general idea and it makes us feel good; that’s good enough.
“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? That’s clear as a bell (although less clear to us are our reasons for not doing God’s will). “Give us our daily bread”? That’s why we should say grace before meals.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us”? We happily and self-assuredly pray the first part of this because we avoid thinking about the second part.
“Lead us not into temptation” is a bit of a blur. But, since we’re almost done with the prayer, we can figure that out the next time we pray. (Didn’t Pope Francis say something helpful about this recently?)
But, when we get to praying for God’s Name to be “hallowed,” we’re puzzled. “Hallow”? Doesn’t that have something to do with Halloween?
“Hallow” is so odd to our modern ears, a verbal antique we don’t quite know what to do with. Drop the word “hallow” in a casual conversation and see what happens. You’ll get blank, puzzled looks even in a church coffee hour.
For the past months I have become very aware of the oddness of this word, and realized I didn’t know what I was praying for, exactly. Yes, I understood it had something to do with God’s reputation (“Name”) and God being respected. I remembered that I had been taught somewhere by somebody that I, a human being, am not capable of “hallowing” God’s name, as only God can do that, which made sense to me. But, why am I to supposed to pray this?
I realized of course that “hallow” means “holy,” but here “holy” is being used as a verb in the Greek text, which got me wondering how “holy” worked as a verb. Evidently, we’re asking God to act in such a way that His name is holy. I also realized that “holy” has the sense of something or someone being set aside for Divine purposes. “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy,” we’re told, and so the Jewish Sabbath is different than the other days of the week. Certainly, that’s obviously true of God who is the source of holiness.
These seemed to be the “right” answers to my basic questions, but I was still unsatisfied. Somehow, there had to be more to this hallowing business than what can be learned from a Bible dictionary.
As I prayed and reflected on this, my attention was drawn to the four King James words that follow “Our Father.” Jesus did indeed introduce his Father to us as “Abba” with all the warmth and intimacy the term implies. But, this is a father “which art in heaven.” Yes, God is indeed made known to us as “Abba,” but that same God doesn’t cease being more than and bigger than “daddy.” Intimacy here is in the context of transcendence, not in that of a pre-school.
I realized, when it came to knowing God, that intimacy does not entail chumminess. The “fear of the Lord”—knowing God as radically “other”—and loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength are both given expression in these opening words of the Lord’s Prayer. Our Lord intends them to be held in tension.
But, “which art in heaven” is just the first step. The prayer moves us on to a concern for God’s Name and for that name to be “hallowed,” or “holy,” and here we enter into another facet of the paradox of what it is to know, and pray to, God: God’s holiness. The “fear of the Lord” now comes into the foreground, for holiness inspires reverence, which is “the fear of the Lord.”
An odd way of understanding what it means for God’s Name to be hallowed can be seen when the opposite happens, as Paul describes in Romans 2, quoting Isaiah: “. . . The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24, Isaiah 52:5). Here, God’s name is linked to the behavior of His people, whose lives discredit and dishonor the God they claim to worship. If, then, the lives of God’s people can dishonor God’s reputation on earth, then so can the lives of God’s people honor God’s reputation so that people see God in all of his goodness.
Underlying blaspheming or hallowing God’s name is the commandment not to take God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7). To claim God as “Father” and claim to be his people and to live at odds with God’s holiness is to lie about one’s relationship with God and to take His name in vain. To participate in God’s holiness, to honor and respect God in deed not merely in word, is to hallow God’s Name.
But, as previously noted, we human beings on our own cannot “hallow” or “make holy” God’s Name. How can finite imperfection bestow holiness on One who is infinite and perfect? We may have the desire for God’s Name to be hallowed, but we don’t have the capacity to actually do it. No matter how much we huff and puff and posture and pose, we don’t—can’t—make God look good. Pharisees, ancient and contemporary, illustrate this well, confusing God’s holiness with their own self-righteousness.
So what is it we’re saying when we pray, “Hallowed be your name”? One of Paul’s prayers gives us a clue. He prays for his readers “that our God. . . may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him. . . (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).” I realized that I don’t fulfill my “resolve for good” or “work of faith” by my own efforts. It is God who gives me the power to do so, and for that matter it is God who gives me the desire to resolve to do what He wants.
God’s name can be hallowed by God alone; we can’t “help” with that. To take God’s holiness seriously and to pray for God’s Name to be holy is to do so with a sense of being undone. Isaiah’s words capture this perfectly: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).
Yet, it is the loving condescension of God to scare the willies out of us and comfort us at the same time. Isaiah later tells us,
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite”
The God who dwells in a high and holy place also lives in the heart of the contrite and lowly to revive them. The one to whom God looks is “he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). This is the God to whom Jesus introduces us, telling us that the poor in Spirit are blessed with the Kingdom of God, that those who mourn over their spiritual inadequacy are comforted, and that those starving for righteousness will be fed to fullness.
To pray “Hallowed be Your Name” with open eyes is to die and be raised from the dead, and to hear Peter’s words resounding in our deepest heart: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). It is a prayer for enough humility and poverty of Spirit so that a hallowing of God’s name actually happens in our life. It is to gain the ears to hear Jesus telling us that “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Even more, it is to gain the ears to hear Jesus tell us, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9).
Yet, God’s name is not hallowed only because we are poor in Spirit. There’s more to it than that. Through Christ, we enter into the fellowship of the Trinity and participate in the life of God. We are made “partakers of the divine nature,” in the thrilling words of 2 Peter. Infused with the resurrection life of God, we are made “saints,” “holy ones,” through whom God’s Name is revealed to be holy, because his name is love.
And we are not saints alone. We can’t be. In another of our Lord’s prayers, he asks that his followers extend the fellowship of the blessed Trinity to earth in the fellowship of Christ’s Church, in which God’s Name is hallowed in a web of self-giving love:
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:21-23, NIV).
The one who taught us to pray and who planted a concern for God’s name in our heart through the prayer he taught is the one who enables this hallowing to take place by making us partakers of the divine nature. In the words of Matthew the Poor,
“It is through obedience and love to Christ that union with God is perfected. It is he who has first completed the union of divinity and humanity in himself to deliver it to us in a mystery of transcendent love.” (Matthew the Poor, “Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way,” 108).
God’s name is hallowed because God saw fit to hallow it in his crucified Son, who invites us to take up our crosses, follow him, and in so doing, hallowing God’s name.