Monthly Archives: October 2013

Labels, Labels Everywhere


“He’s a liberal.”

“She’s gay.”

“He’s gifted.”

“She’s a Republican.”

“They’re freeloaders.”

“You’re a slut.”

“She’s a Christian.”

“He’s an addict.”

Labels. We use them all the time. Sometimes they are positive, sometimes negative. But what’s in a label? What do labels do?

In general, labels are used to help us categorize things. If a steak is labeled USDA Grade A Choice, we have a high degree of confidence that the meat is top quality. If a movie star is labeled as “a train wreck” we’re pretty sure there are some serious issues. We don’t have to see the steak or the movie star to make these assumptions. We base our expectations on our interpretations of the labels.

But as useful as labels are, they can also be detrimental to a well-rounded understanding of the object being labeled. How big is the steak? What kind of steak is it? Is there a lot of fat on it? How much does it cost? Is it still fresh? If we look only at the label, we miss a lot of information we may find useful.

So maybe we put a second label on things. “Bone-in porterhouse” might give us more information. “6.99/lb.” provides still more information. But all the labels in the world won’t tell us how good that steak is. We only know when we take a big honkin’ bite of beef. Experience is the true test.

Now think about the labels we use on other people. “She’s a Christian.” How do you evaluate that label? If our past experience with Christians has been positive, we likely assume that she’s a good person. If our past experience has been negative, we may see the very same label and come to the conclusion that she’s a self-righteous bigot. In either case, we have ascribed a quality to the person that may or may not be warranted.

So just like we did with the steak, we add more labels to the person to minimize confusion. “She’s a liberal Christian.” So she’s either a progressive or an oxymoron, depending on your point of view. Once again, adding more labels is a failed attempt to explain just who she is. If you really want to know who she is, get to know her. See for yourself.

What happens when we attempt to label God? Savior. Great Physician. Lord. Prince of Peace. Mighty God. King of Kings. All of these are labels. Each one has its own meaning and its own connotations. Each label is an attempt to describe some facet of God. We may as well attempt to rope the wind. How can we describe the ineffable majesty that is God? How can we convey His greatness?

Moses once asked God for his preferred label. “Who shall I say sent me?” he asked. God’s answer may seem cryptic until we realize that it completely avoids the limitations that labels place on our understanding. “Tell him I AM THAT I AM sent you.” I AM. The very essence of identity, unclouded by labels.

God invites us to know him. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” the scriptures tell us. Forget the labels, and just reach out to I AM. He’ll leave the Light on for you.