What It Really Means to Take the Name of the Lord in Vain

“You shall not take the name of YHWH your God in vain.”

“Father, hallowed be Your Name.”

God is Holy. His Greatness – His Truth – His Love – His Goodness, all these call us to approach Him and to speak His Name with reverence and with joy, not flippantly, not carelessly, but meaning what we say as nearly as we can, knowing that He of Whom we speak is so real and true we cannot grasp Him, so high and loving and beautiful we stand in awe of His supreme goodness.

This, then, what is meant by the Commandment that we not take the Name in vain or the prayer that the Name be hallowed. It has nothing to do with the vast majority of cussing. When people say, “God bless,” without meaning it, but simply as a polite form, they do not hallow the Name but take it in vain. However, this may be one of the lesser ways in which people profane the Name. When people, pastors, elders, whoever, speak of God, not in honest belief, but to gain prestige, reputation, or to control others, they profane the Name of the Holy. When people sit in the congregation and sing songs because it is what their peers are doing, because it is what respectable people do, or for any other reason other than that they believe in Jesus and wish to honor Him, other than that they mean or at least want to mean (what real difference is there?) what they sing, they dishonor the Name of the Honorable. I am convinced that this goes on very much on Sunday mornings, and probably on other days of the week also. When someone can sing of the mercies of the Lord and partake of Communion and then be interested in everything and anything except for Jesus, it is almost certain that he is taking the Name in vain. But it may not even be these people who do it most: it may be their leaders, who supposedly make their lives about the proclamation of the Name, but are bound up in unconfessed pride, doing any number of telltale things to prove they are more interested in power or prestige than in the Lord: what of when talks are given on “Mother’s Day” about how wonderful moms are and motivating children with pride rather than the Love of God? Or when they speak of how only those in other circumstances have real, enduring relationships with God (if they really think that, why do they not sell all they have and give to the poor? Or make their house a center of hospitality for the poor and the homeless and the wandering? Or go to whatever country they think they have to in order to follow Jesus into the “threat” of suffering and death?)?

It is dishonoring and profaning the Name of our Lord when people try to use Him to push some agenda of their own. Perhaps it is nationalism. Perhaps it is saying that only if one gives one’s allegiance to a flag and country (usually, a particular flag and country) is one a good Christian. Over and over again this is done, countless times without number, in countless ways. If someone reading this is upset about a particular instance that I have not noted but they think needs more attention, do not be angry with me. I neither know nor feel everything nor can even write of every instance I have seen. Feel free to mention it in the comments if you desire.

The idea, common among those of certain sectors in certain countries, that to take the Name of the Lord in vain means to use certain cuss words (such as a word for excrement) is highly suggestive, if not evidential, that these people often take the Name in vain, for otherwise they would not think that is what it means. (This is, of course, NEVER a defense for using the Name of our Jesus as a cuss word.)

It is actually classism, the idea that their society and culture is holy and that of others – a society and culture they probably do not even understand is – is less favored by God – that makes them say that using such words is a sin against the Holy Name, and this statement of theirs is thus itself a form of taking the Name in vain, for they are trying to use the Name to push an agenda that their culture is better than another. The discussion about whether and why and how much and what cussing is wrong is a different discussion, which may perhaps be profitably had when the wealthy and privileged and educated, and those who look up to that culture and imitate it, can look at their own speech first and discuss where they speak in dirty fashions and how they should change the way they speak and think to better reflect the glory and love of God. At any rate, cussing that does not actually make use of the Name of God or words directly referring to the actions of God is not, in any meaningful way, taking the Name in vain. You might as well decide that speaking of any created thing in frustration, or even thinking of it as a barrier to your ends, is taking the Name in vain.

Rather, let us in truth pray to the Father that His Name be hallowed and let us in truth let it be hallowed in our lives, speaking of God in truth and reverence and living before Him in the light. It is not fancy words, but the intention of the will that matters.

 

Copyright 2019 Raina Nightingale

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