It is what it is! Don’t you just hate that sentence? Well, maybe you don’t, but I do. OF COURSE it is what it is. What else is it going to be? A car is going to be a car, a grape a grape, and a rock a rock. Yes, it is what it is. You don’t have to fill me in any further. I already know that.
It could be worse, I suppose. Someone could say, “It is what it isn’t.” Or maybe it could be even sadder than that. Someone could say, “It isn’t what it is.” Wouldn’t that nick your knickers?
That sentence always puts me in mind of Popeye the Sailor. You may remember him. He’s the one who always used to say, “I am what I am” Phonetically, however, it constantly came out, I yam what I yam (which made him sound like he considered himself to be a tuberous root of some sort). I used to watch Popeye, but I was never his biggest fan. But at least he knew who he was—himself.
Maybe that’s why I don’t like hearing, “It is what it is.” Every time I hear it, I picture a guy with pencil-thin biceps who thrives on spinach (straight from a can, no less). It’s all rather revolting in my book.
Unfortunately for me, I really can’t argue with the use of that phrase. It’s Biblical… In the third chapter of Exodus, Moses asks the Lord what his name is. God famously answers, “I AM WHO I AM.” He then instructs Moses to tell the children of Israel that he was sent to them by “I AM” (Exodus 3:13-15). This is why you may have heard God referred to as the “Great I Am.”
If you look in a Bible that has footnotes, you might see that the phrase, “I AM WHO I AM,” has an alternate translation. It could also be interpreted to say, “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” Another way of putting it would be to say, “HE IS WHAT HE IS.” It’s all beginning to sound way too familiar.
No One Can Label God
There are at least a couple of ideas behind this so-called name. First, I think you’d agree that “I AM” isn’t much of a name—at least not in the context of what we like to call a name. Jim, Sally, and Pat are more in our ballpark. Still, we don’t get to choose God’s name. He does. God is basically saying that no one can put a label on him.
Secondly, it denotes several things. It signifies tense, as in past, present, and future. He is who he is, was who he was, and will be who he will be. He always was, is now, and ever will be. You’ve probably heard that one (just add the phrase, world without end, and it will ring a bell for you).
There’s only one thing left to add. “It is what it is.” There! I said it!
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]