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Revising the “I AM”?

Professor Edmund Reim was a leader in the formation of the CLC, and the first President of Immanuel Lutheran Seminary.

We here reprint an article from the Lutheran Spokesman of August 1969.

It has become the fashion lately to take a new, hard look at almost everything that has previously been accepted as an established fact (TIME Magazine, May 23, 1969). It is not surprising, therefore, that even so simple and harmless a word as “I am” and its related forms (“is,” “are,” etc.) should become a target for this modern technique. Nor is this wrong in itself. There is some reason for such a challenge. When men introduce their argument by saying, “It is certain that . . .” they are often simply covering up the fact that there is something in their position about which they are themselves not quite sure. To deflate such inflated claims is surely all to the good.

The matter becomes more complicated, however, when the discussion turns to the question of absolutes. May one make a straight-forward statement like, “This is right, and that is wrong,” or should one hedge a bit by saying, “I consider this right;” or “I count that wrong?” If the speaker is not sure of his ground, the latter would surely be the honest form. But if one IS sure, why invite doubt, particularly at this time when the world is so full of it? Why let the trumpet give an un certain sound?

For there are things about which we can be certain. There are absolutes, even in civil life. When our government assures all its citizens of the civil liberties listed in the Constitution of the United States, such individuals or minority groups as are contending for these privileges are within their rights, even though an intense struggle may be involved. But they are wrong when they resort to violence to reach their goal. For it is simply wrong to rob, wreck, maim and murder—even as adultery, fornication, sexual perversion and homosexuality are wrong, to mention just a few more. For all these are absolutes.

This will, of course, provoke an argument. For has modern society not revised its standards on some of these things? It has indeed, sometimes up to the point of rejecting them in their entirety. But they stand nevertheless, these absolutes. They stand, because it is not the authority of men which has made them what they are, but God himself. Where He speaks, there we have the true absolutes, let men deny it as much as they will!

So far this is, of course, pure law, and as Christians we recognize it as an expression of the holy and perfect will of God. But we have an even higher reason for rejecting this arbitrary tampering with those “traditional” expressions of certainty: “is” and “are”—and “AM.” For here the very name of God is involved, the one He gave Himself when He said, “I AM THAT I AM,” the one which Jesus invoked when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” There we have that name of God which identifies Him as the One who Changes Not, the One whose every Word stands for all time, the One whose faithfulness stands as the solemn guarantee of the certain fulfillment of all that He has ever promised. There is the True Absolute!

And consider what it means when He speaks in the Person of that Son: “I AM the Good Shepherd;” “I AM the Door (of entry into His Kingdom);” “I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life;” yes, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” And when He asks, “Believest thou this?” let our answer be like Martha’s: “Yea, Lord, I believe.”

There will indeed be for us no revising of the “I AM.” Rather, we shall have every right to apply to ourselves the wonderful assurance given by our Lord at the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.” And in the face of all the tempests of our day we have this comforting sequel that when “the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a ROCK.”

Edmund Reim