Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Third Commandment

“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 (NKJV)

The New Living Translation is clearer. It says,

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

This is one interesting commandment and one that is often misinterpreted and yet, seldom followed even in the right frame of reference. Most scholars of all flavors generally interpret this passage from a legal standpoint likening the claim of perjury upon those who misuse God’s name in court or personal use. False swearing has serious civil ramifications that include those who offer false witness, testimony, and perjury. And, as is often the case with those who are condemned by false testimony, they are the ones to whom cry out to God for justice and freedom from captivity.

While this particular commandment doesn’t actually speak to cussing—it is often associated with it. If you were to utter the big GD in conversation, you might be referred back to this commandment because it “appears” to address one’s chosen words. However, this is a misdirection—surely there are enough verses and passages in the New Testament where the choice of one’s words are encouraged to be reflective of God’s grace and temperament. In this place in the Old Testament, however, misusing God’s name or using it in vain has far more serious implications.

On the surface, one only has to think of all the wars fought in God’s name. God is on our side and not your side. Think of the persecutions after Christians were themselves persecuted who decided that perhaps they ought to do it too—and many did with vigor. Think of the Salem witch trials. Think of the genocides across the globe when one race thinks another race is inferior and needs to be extinguished. All of these incidents, where one rids the world of evil through violence as justified in God’s name. Turning on the T.V. and seeing the likes of fundamentalist Christians like Fred Phelps who justify and condone acts of violence against gays and lesbians while doing so using God’s name. Anyone who misuses God’s name and takes it in vain is breaking this commandment.

A person also breaks this commandment when promises are made using God’s name to vindicate its use and are then broken. When we promise to care for our citizens but then pursue self-interest at the expense of other citizens, we are using God’s name in vain. If a president of a country or municipality (for example) promises by God’s hand to uphold the law and protect its citizens, but then seeks through self-interest to take advantage of their office, then he or she is using God’s name in vain.

The examples can continue and I am sure you can think of other examples—my point is this: If we use God or the church or the Christian faith to either get what we want or pursue an agenda of selfishness and crime, rather than doing good, seeking justice, and glorifying God, then we are only using religion and people’s fear of it to manipulate others. This is what breaks the second commandment. Words, regardless of the cussing involved can be painful—and disrespectful for sure. But the action that betrays our words is the sin of taking God’s name in vain and it is to that sin that a person will be unable to escape God’s concern.

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