Clergy Confessional (76) Taking God’s Name in Vain

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I grew up believing that the 3rd Commandment was about bad language – profanity combined with God or Jesus. It may be – I wasn’t there when it was given – but I think there is something more to this than that. Some versions use the word “misuse”. I think this is more accurate. But still, what does it mean?

Think about how God is used – in prayer, in Bible Study, in worship – all perfectly appropriate ways to use the word. The wrong ways are less clear, but I will try to consider what that means. For example: is saying “God bless America” misusing God’s name? Is telling someone that God condemns them taking God’s name in vain? What about thanking God for the touchdown you scored, or saying any elected official has been placed there by God?

I don’t want to get too restrictive – I have said “God” at times when I probably shouldn’t. I use the word as an exclamation, or when I get excited. Maybe these are also considered the misuse of God’s name – I’m not sure. I do not, however, use the word as a weapon against others, so maybe that is what the commandment means. Just be nice – don’t think you are God. Live and let live.

We don’t do that very well – we love to be nosy, to know things, to have inside information. We like the control – the power – and we like to be right. I am as guilty as anyone else, and I try hard to not be, failing often. Still, I think we would do well to keep God out of it. Let’s stop blaming God – let’s take responsibility for ourselves and pray the way Jesus taught us. He knew stuff we do not – He might be a good guide for how we should live. Peace.

Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).

Author: Pastor Steve Ohnsman