Our adversary is very clever. For millennia, he has been working tirelessly to cloud the minds of
humanity by means of underhanded, subtle trickery. Challenge to obvious truth is too risky, but stirring confusion with what is already confusing is an inevitable recipe for success.
The examples of Satan's brilliance in this area are nearly endless. Christendom as a whole has bought into his many lies, hook line and sinker. Satan wants Christians to deny the literal death of Christ; what bettter way to accomplish his task than to introduce a concept like the trinity, which denies Christ's death while at the same time proclaiming His majesty as "God?" Our enemy thrives on Christians rejecting God's sovereignty. Is there a better way to convince them that they are more powerful than their Maker than by introducing the false doctrine of free will, which makes God seem generous but at the same time powerless?
Christendom is littered with popular vignettes that seem, on their surface, to line up with Scripture, but in reality oppose it. Here are a few examples: "All sins are equal in the eyes of God," "God helps those who help themselves," "Jesus is my copilot," "Christians must go to church," and "prayer changes things."
One of these more subtle lies is the notion that taking the Lord's name in vain means saying "Oh, my God" or "God, damn it." When asked, most Christians claim that these phrases take the Lord's name in vain by using His name in an "empty" or "meaningless" way. After all - they reason - God's name should not be used flippantly or disrespectfully.
When we read through the Law of Moses and discover that God forbade taking His name in vain as one of the ten commandments to the Hebrews, we should pause to consider whether something as trifle as saying "Oh my God" really constitutes taking the Lord's name in vain. Among the commandments, we find that God's ideal includes not murdering, stealing, or committing adultery. Can a simple three-word phrase really measure up to those sins? Is an everyday phrase on the same level? Can we picture God squirming in anguish when His name is used by someone who is merely reacting in surprise?
To anyone with a brain, it should be crystal clear that taking the Lord's name in vain does not mean saying "Oh my God" or "God damn it!" What, then, does it mean?
Let's first examine the two notorious phrases. What are we saying when we say "Oh, my God?" For one, we are calling out to God! We are acknowledging His existence, and in our surprise, we are actually acknowledging His sovereignty in a sense. Granted, those who frequently use the phrase do not think of this when they say it, but the phrase implies this nonetheless. What about the phrase "God damn it?" This undoubtedly seems far worse to most because it includes the word "damn." Surely this must be an example of taking the Lord's name in vain!
But is it? What are we really saying when we say "God, damn it?" In frustration, we are asking God to "damn," or "curse" the things that caused us frustration. In the original text, to "damn" meant to "down-judge." We might as well say, "God, curse this!" Is there any harm in asking God to curse something that's harmful?
If taking the Lord's name in vain doesn't mean what most think it means, we should attempt to determine what it does mean. As with most dilemmas, we should consult an accurate translation of Scripture to arrive at the truth. When we do (such as the Concordant), we discover that taking the Lord's name in vain means using His name in a futile, or useless way, with no practical result.
God is not concerned with people referencing Him as part of a common phrase. What He is concerned about is people taking up His name for no purpose or for falsity. If I make a false and detrimental claim in the name of God, I have taken His name in vain because I have ascribed His name to something He never decreed. I have "forged His signature," in a sense. To "take" God's name is to use His name. Using His name falsely is taking His name in vain.
A while back, my daughter said "Oh, my God." A while back, Benny Hinn said, "In the name of God I cast out your demon." Which of the two took the Lord's name in vain?
© 2013 by Stephen Hill