Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Taking God’s Name in Vain -- Exodus 20:7 (Part I)


You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
 
What does “take something in vain” mean anyway?  Here’s what the Free Dictionary by Farlex says: changing the inherent purpose or function of something; abusing the system; misusing something, especially funds.”  Synonyms include: abuse, misuse, pervert.
So God here in this third commandment is saying, “do not abuse My name, do not misuse it, and do not pervert it.”  Let us consider for a moment just how we might do any of those things.  What follows is not an exhaustive list by any means, but enough to give us an idea of what it may well mean to take the Lord’s name in vain.
Abusing God’s Name:  One cannot venture too far from one’s home these days towards anywhere there are people – a busy street, a sports arena, a shopping mall, a schoolyard without hearing God’s name being abused.
Abusing God’s name takes place in many ways.  Here are just a few examples. It occurs when we employ the word when unnecessary as in “God this” and “God that”.  It occurs when we relate His name to anything that surprises us as in “Oh my God!”  It occurs when we attach the word “damn” to it as in “G** D*** snow!” While originally saying that may have tried to indicate that the snow, or the rain, or anything we detested at that moment was ‘damned’ by God, that type of use today implies that we are assigning to God the blame for whatever it is we wished wasn’t happening or wasn’t the case.
Marsha West in her May 12, 2006 blog on NewsWithViews.com writes this: Some people punctuate each word, “Oh - my - God.” Others say it as if it’s one word, “OhmyGod!” And there are those that shorten it to “Oh God.” If he or she’s a person of few words, just saying “God!” gets their point across. For a little extra punch, certain people will add a damn.”
I am certain readers could add their own list of ways God’s name is being abused regularly in the world and perhaps in our lives today.
Misusing God’s Name: One misuses God’s name when he/she invokes it for his/her own manipulative purposes, as in “I’m sure God would not approve of that.” (Just how sure are you?  Does Scripture speak against it or just you?)  Or, here’s another well used one, “God told me that you should. . ..”  (A good question for us to ask one who utters that would be, “Well, how come He hasn’t told me?  When He does, I’ll be sure to let you know how right you were.”)  We misuse His name when we deliberately pretend that we are working for Him when in fact we are more interested in our own welfare and benefit, as in “Send us your money and we’ll send you a square inch of the Turin Shroud or a preserved piece of palm leaf that was used when Christ entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.”  You get the idea.
Perverting God’s Name:  To address this form of taking God’s name in vain, we must start with the meaning of the word ‘perversion’ and for that we turn to the Oxford dictionary online.  Here is what we find:
1.  Distortion or corruption of the original course, meaning, or state of something: the thing which most disturbed him was the perversion of language and truth: a scandalous perversion of the law
2.  Sexual behavior that is considered abnormal and unacceptable: his book revolutionized ideas about sexual perversion: he indulged in most perversions you could care to name
Origin: late Middle English, from Latin pervesio, from the verb perverte meaning to “turn about”.
How then can we ‘pervert’ the name of God?  Based on the definition of perversion above, three ideas come to mind, but again I am sure that more are out there.  Let us deal with the more obvious one first, the one dealing with the second definition of the word, the sexual connotation of its meaning.
I am reminded of man’s attempts over the years to turn a monotheistic faith in God into a religion of practices that involve sexuality of some form or another.  We need not go into details here, but suffice it to say that many have tried to introduce sinful sexual practices into their acts of worship, or as part of God answering the prayers of others or meeting their needs.  I remember while in Africa, I read a local paper’s account of how many women were being tricked by rogue ministers to give them sexual favors in exchange for God’s blessings and healings.
A singer who is more interested in his or her sexual appeal and presentation, as well as how they look and move, when performing Gospel or Christian songs is, in my opinion, perverting the Lord’s name – even if he or she believes they are doing so with a pure heart and for the right reasons – to engage the non-believer in matters of faith.  Speaking of misdirected ‘good motives’ I remember a young female university professor complete with a Ph.D. who had recently come to Christ telling a small group of her new Christian friends that she still slept with many men in order to direct them to Christ.  That just does not work and it is perverting the Lord’s name.
We also pervert His name when we personify images of God or His Son and speak to them or pray to them.  I know of eastern Christians that want to pray in their so-called prayer room where all their images of God and Christ are, believing their prayers would be better heard and responded to if done there.  These types of acts violate both the second and the third commandments.  There is a clear difference between this and doing what Jesus commended us to do, “When you pray, go into your closet.” (Matthew 6:6)
Finally, there is another form of perverting God’s name that has arisen lately, and I am sure here I may lose some of you. It has to do with some recent headlines with respect to a decision made by the Malaysian government that impacts Christians and God’s name.  But that is a big topic and I will address it next.
In the meantime, our current text tells us once again there are consequences to breaking God’s commandments.  God says, if you take His name in vain, He “will not leave (you) unpunished.”  I do not know what that means.  I am not suggesting we will lose our salvation.  Not at all – unless of course in taking His name in vain, we commit the unpardonable sin, and grieve the Holy Spirit as we are told in Mark 3:29 and Matthew 12:31.  So what God means here in our current text by not leaving us ‘unpunished’ may well mean that we will not benefit totally for the kind of relationship we could otherwise have with God – our joy may not be as full; our blessings may be curtailed, for God is not to be mocked.
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