Oh my…

by MW Cook

You shall not take he name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Have you ever noticed how so many cultures use religious words when they want to express great emotion? The French say “Mon Dieu!”, Muslims say “Ya Allah!”, Hindus says “Oh Baghvan!” and us English folk say the exact same thing in English. Except, of course, for us pious Christians, because that’s blasphemy.

Is it really?

I’ve always understood blasphemy as saying something untrue and bad about someone, specifically God. Saying the word ‘god’ at an inappropriate time doesn’t seem to count as blasphemy. Okay, then we don’t say it because it’s taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Is it really?

For years I’ve wondered what it actually means to take the Lord’s name in vain. I’ve never really been comfortable with the interpretation that we shouldn’t say the word ‘god’ unless we’re actually talking about God. It seems like a bit of a stretch when the original says “you shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain.” It doesn’t say “you shall not say Yahweh or God in vain.”

I was thinking the other day, what does it mean to take the name of Yahweh? To take the name of God? My first thought is not regarding speech, but identification. Kinda like “Take this oath” or “Take this badge.” We who claim to be of Christ have taken the name of Yahweh upon us, haven’t we? We are called by his name and we identify ourselves with him. To me, this seems to be what it means to take the name of Yahweh my God.

So what does it mean to take it in vain? I think the commandment is re-iterated in the New Testament positively. “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling by which you have been called.” I think we take the name of the Lord in vain, not when we swear (though it’s rarely a good idea to swear), but when we fail to walk in a manner worthy of him. When we have taken his name upon us and refused to also take the lifestyle and worldview of Christ, we have taken Yahweh’s name vainly. When you called yourself by his name and use the word ‘Christian’ but fail to live as he lived, the name ‘Christian’ is a vain one. And God will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain, because his name is precious to him. When he puts his name on someone he means for that individual to respect and lift up his name, not allow it to wallow in the grime of sin and crap. Faith without works is dead. The name “Christian” without Christ in it is useless.

So maybe that’s a bit of an unorthodox interpretation, and I’m certainly not advising you to go around swearing now. But I do believe that the third commandment is much more serious and difficult (or impossible) to obey than simply to refrain from saying a certain word when you stub your toe.