Thursday, January 19, 2012

Exodus 20:7

OMG. TGIF. And many, many more. How many times each day do you hear God's name taken in vain? How many times do you actually notice it? "You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain."

Using God's name in vain has become so commonplace in our society that most people don't give it a second thought. At least in upstate NY, I've noticed this is more common among Catholics than non-Catholic Christians, but is certainly not exclusive to one denomination. We break this commandment so frequently that many people have convinced themselves they're not breaking it at all.

Certainly there are others ways to take God's name in vain. To ask for God's blessing on an activity you know is immoral. To claim God's agenda is the same as yours when you have no reason to think so. To lie about the nature of God (e.g. "God hates gays").

To take God's name in vain is to use it without due respect. Certainly there is nothing wrong with giving God thanks for a good week and the chance to enjoy the weekend. But most people who say, "Thank God it's Friday," aren't thinking about God at all. Imagine what a life of gratitude we might lead if we sincerely sent a prayer of gratitude every time we said, "Thank God!"

We have so much for which to be thankful!

"Oh my God" is even more prevalent and probably said more flippantly. It's often used an expression of surprise, excitement, or disgust and annoyance. As I frequently remind the kids in Sunday school and youth group, "God's name is too important to be used like that." This is the Creator of the universe. His Name should not be slang.

It's easy for me to address this topic with the kids I serve. They expect me to be a moral authority in their lives. I don't belittle or accuse them; they don't get defensive. It is simply another teaching moment.

My concern is how to address this with adults, particularly those who "should know better." Regular church-goers, pastoral staff, or priests. How do I respectfully tell someone older and wiser than I that s/he should pay more attention to word choice? Saying, "God's name is too important to be used like that," seems condescending. My aunt suggested, "You know, when you use God's name like that it makes me uncomfortable." This seems better, but I haven't tried it yet. I guess I'm afraid of being teased or ridiculed.



  1. I think the more direct statement, "God's name is too important to be used like that" is better. Too often we waste a lot of energy trying to find a nice way to say something that is unlikely to be taken kindly and in the end water it down until it can be easily ignored.

    Either speak up or don't. I think it is better that the person be ticked off but have heard a clear statement. Then again, I'm older and seem to have slid into that old woman's mind set where I do not care that the truth is unpopular because so many of my errors in my youth were the result of nobody having the guts to speak truth simply and without apology.

    1. I think you're right - better to be ticked off but have heard a clear statement - but I get scared. Which sounds like a pathetic excuse even as I write it. Sigh. Another prayer for courage is in order...

  2. I usually just say something that shows I am understanding them to actually be talking about God. Like if they say "God bless you" when I sneeze, I say, "Oh, he always does!" Or if they say "Thank God it's Friday," I say, "Yes, I'm so glad he made Fridays." Haven't yet thought of a good reply to "Oh my God" though.

    1. I like that, I'll have to see if I can remember to do it!