Friday, November 09, 2012

On Profaning God's Name

"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

The Hebrew people took this command seriously. So seriously that capital punishment was prescribed for offenders. Only the High Priest was permitted to speak God's name (YHWH) and then only in the temple in Jerusalem on the day of atonement (Yom Kippur). Today, whenever God is named when reading the text of the Bible or when praying, traditional Jewish practice is to speak the word for "master or lord" (Adonai). For them, the name of God is holy and worthy of reverence.

Christians have not interpreted this commandment as strictly as have Jews. Few of us speak Hebrew. We realize that different languages employ different words to point to God. We don't believe that the Hebrew language has any unique power to capture God's essence or invoke God's presence. The temple in Jerusalem is not the center of our worship. We don't restrict the use of the word "God" to priests or the clergy. We all speak God's name, laity and clergy, when reading scripture, when praying and in our day-to-day conversations.

So, what remains for Christians of the command to not take the name of the Lord in vain?

The answer lies in what "in vain" means in the context of naming God.

In ordinary language usage, the word for "god" is an entry in the dictionary that refers to a deity, or immortal being (s), or supreme being (s). It principally refers to some ideal of divinity but it could be used for any conception of ultimate reality.

In Hebrew, the divine name cannot be used in this generic sense. The living God is not just another entry in the lexicon of ordinary language. Nor is the God of Abraham merely an ideal or a lofty conception of ultimate reality. Naming the living God invokes a presence. To make reference to the God of Abraham without the awe and reverence that is appropriate in the divine presence is rude and insulting. It takes God's name "in vain" -- i.e., in the "emptiness of speech." It deprives God's name of meaning and denies the ever present reality and ultimate significance of the One who is being named.

For Christians this means that we should never condone flippant and meaningless references to God. Our use of the word "God" should always evidence a reverent and worshipful attitude. We should never profane the name of God by speaking in ways that are disrespectful of the dignity of the Divine presence.

1 comment:

P M Prescott said...

It also means attributing or invoking God into what a person thinks or wants. The religious wrong's assertion that God favors one candidate over another, that God hates fags, "God told me that this man should be president of the SBC"
Isn't that also the symbolic meaning of Six hundred Sixty Six?