“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”
–Exodus 20:7, ESV
I spend my days teaching 6th – 12th graders the Bible at a Christian school. While my class was in session, I asked someone to watch my classroom while I ran upstairs to the school office to get something off the printer. When I told this person the combination of 8th and 9th graders that filled my classroom, he excitedly replied, “Oh my god!…Alright.” Something inside me cringed as he uttered those words. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the phrase spoken in response to seemingly ‘small’ matters at the place where I am currently serving Jesus. As I grabbed the piece of paper, fresh off the printer, and headed back downstairs to my classroom where (exactly as I expected) everything was just fine, I could not let this incident go unchecked. Especially, because this entire interchange happened in front of students who we hope to form into followers of Jesus who revere their Lord.
After class, I pulled that teacher aside who had responded to my question as he did, briefly reviewed the incident, and respectfully asked him what the position of the school/church was regarding using the Lord’s Name in vain. He seemed surprised, saying, “What do you think it means to take the Lord’s Name in vain? I certainly didn’t take the Lord’s Name in vain…I was asking God for help! Who knows what will happen when that combination of students are alone, in a room, together!?” He continued, “You know, the psalmists say that same thing all the time!?”
In my mind, reviewing the incident with him, I was thinking, “Wait…you seriously just equated that scenario to the cry of the psalmists, specifically David, when his very life was being threatened by a ravenous Saul?” (cf. 1 Samuel 23:19; Psalm 54)
He then, as I was trying to make rational sense of his argument, went on to say that he finds it more offensive when people say, “Oh my gosh!” or “Oh my goodness!” because certainly they are just simply replacing “God” with a more innocent term. Assuming that they certainly mean “Oh my god,” in their hearts, but just aren’t saying it with their mouths.
We concluded our short, passing-period conversation, agreeing to disagree. However, I think that such a comparison, in the given situation, is rather absurd.
What does it mean to take the Lord’s Name in vain? I would suggest that it is any flippant, irreverent, half-hearted, disrespectful usage of God’s Name (i.e., Yahweh, Jesus, Christ, God, Lord) in any situation. In addition, it would be any usage of the Lord’s Name in a flippant, irreverent, derogatory oath or condemnation. On a side, as someone once brought to my attention, have you noticed that you never hear people say, “Oh my Buddha!” or “Oh my Krishna!” or “Oh my Muhammad!”? It is only the Name of the one, true, Living God that people choose to disrespect. This, I would say, is evidence of the natural rebellion of people’s hearts, because of indwelling sin, against him.
Have we lost a true sense of reverence for the Name of the Lord? Have we failed to approach the Lord with the reverence and awe that he rightfully deserves? It seems to be the pattern of Scripture, that when people are in the presence of the Lord, they end up on their faces in reverence, awe, and worship before him (cf. Isa. 6; Rev. 1:17).
Telling of the prayer life of the Lord Jesus, Hebrews 5:7 says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (emphasis mine). [I always find it curious, in light of Heb. 5:7, that people (often youth pastors) seem to be okay with beginning their prayers with, “’Sup, God?” or “Hey, God” as if they are talking to any random teenager.] Hebrews 12:28 says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (emphasis mine).
Regarding reverence of the Lord’s Name, Jews only write, but do not pronounce the sacred Tetragrammaton (יהוה – trans. ‘Yahweh’). The High Priest would only pronounce the Tetragrammaton on Yom Kippur when the Temple was standing in Jerusalem (before 70 CE). Common practice among Jews is to substitute “Adonai” where the Tetragrammaton is used. Many Jewish people feel that the Lord’s Name is too sacred for even common prayer.
Though the Bible never says that we aren’t to speak the Lord’s name, I pray that we would get to a place, as God’s people, where we approach the Lord with the holy fear*, reverence, respect, adoration, and awe he deserves. I’m growing in this myself everyday.
How abundantly gracious he has been to us in Christ Jesus! That through Christ, we are able to draw as close as we desire to someone so terrifyingly holy. In his presence, only able to stand there through Christ, we find love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, cleansing, wisdom, compassion, healing, and infinite satisfaction! Let us worship God, and speak of him at all times with great reverence, awe, and love!
*When I speak of the “fear” of the Lord, I mean that one has a healthy desire to maintain a right relationship with the fear source.