“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain”. Exodus 20:7
I am hesitant about writing this post, because I am reminded of the Bible verse that says “Thou that teachest another, teachest thou thyself? (Romans 2:21)”. So I write about these commandments, not because I keep them well, not because God loves me because I am ‘good’ – but because I believe that because God loves me he is making me good (a slight paraphrase from C.S Lewis). And writing these helps me to believe more and live better.
The third commandment is one of the commandments that is most wide ranging in its implications for my own life (not that they all aren’t, but I think about this one a lot). I always grew up thinking that this commandment was about saying “Oh my God!”. I would piously rebuke friends if they ‘used the Lord’s name in vain’. So I would always be careful to use another word to replace it…”She said what??!!!…For real??…Oh my daaays”. Third commandment covered.
As I began to develop in my relationship with God, I began to think of a broader context for this. In fact, I would probably suggest that this commandment is the one that I struggle most with.
The early church as depicted in Acts was a movement of rebels, people who believed and lived something so radical that it shook the foundations of the globe, and turned the world on its axis. Their love was radical, their faith was radical, the way they lived their lives was radical, their whole conception of how God communicated with man was antithetical to the theology of the time. Originally, the word ‘Christian’ was used as a pejorative. Kind of like ‘bible-bashers’, or ‘Jesus-junkies’. No one likes being called names. But in a similar way that the Christian rap group DC talk in the 90’s called themselves Jesus Freaks (yes, I know Christian rap is cringe), the term Christian eventually stuck. Because there is nothing shameful or embarrassing about the name of Jesus, about the name Christ, about Christian. It is a banner that signifies who and who’s you are.
‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain’. ‘You shall not make wrongful use of the word Yahweh’.
In the Jewish tradition, the name of God is so sacred that it isn’t written. G-d is used instead of God. There is something gravely serious about invoking God’s name for a cause, for a belief, as part of your identity. I call myself a follower of Christ. I invoke God’s name as part of my identity, as the root cause, the driving force behind my belief system, behind the actions that are informed by my belief system.
I take the Lord’s name in vain when I do not live in a way that accurately represents the God who I claim to serve. I take the Lord’s name in vain when I do not forgive. I take the Lord’s name in vain when I neglect the poor. I take the Lord’s name in vain when I allow sexual sin to rule my life. I take the Lord’s name in vain when I am more concerned with being right than being righteous. I take the Lord’s name in vain when do not trust Him with my life.
This is my fourth Sabbath in Nepal, and I am thinking about the followers of Hinduism, the most popular religion in the country. Many of them wear Tikka, a red mark on their foreheads, which is the place where the third eye/ spiritual eye which governs all actions, is believed to reside. Marking this spot with tikka signifies a desire to open the third eye, so that the actions will be governed by wisdom. I don’t know if wearing a literal sign on my head would remind me to live wisely.
I do know that Christians, we don’t have any official physical sign that separates us from others, the only mark we have is the character of Jesus Christ. I am praying that he helps me let Him govern my actions so that when I invoke his name, it is not in vain.