You Shall Not Take the Name of the Lord, Your God, in Vain

Creatio ex Nihilo

In Exodus 20:7, the Lord God provided a simple commandment: “You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.  For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.” 

The principle is simple. The name of the Most High God is sacred, not to be used as a trivial ejaculation, still less as a curse. Yet, as with all the commandments, we are obliged to honor not merely the letter of the law but also its spirit. That is, the injunction to honor God’s Name means taking care to speak with respect when making any reference to sacred things.

Varying Forms, Same Principle

Over the passage of time, man has tried many different ways to find his way around the commandment. We will look only at a few of the examples, to highlight the creativity involved and to show how subtle and pervasive the forms of irreverence can become.

For many years, man had tried to append something to God’s Name, as if that would make it more acceptable as an expletive. The most popular choice was “dammit,” which, unfortunately, remains popular even now. When some people discovered that this term clearly violated the Second Commandment, the phrase evolved into a “less sinful” phrase, and the word “guldernit” came into being.

The problem becomes that the first letter of each syllable is the same in both words, guldernit and Godd***it. There is enough similarity in the two examples that “guldernit” would appear to meet the need when an exclamation is being used; however, it is apparent that when used, “guldernit” is simply a more polite replacement for the original word. The simple abbreviation of the first word “GD” is as bad as the original term itself.

Gosh, how bad is this going to be? Well, in this case, gosh is simply a modified version of God. As polite and inoffensive as it appears to be, it may also be very close to a violation of the second “suggestion.” (The word suggestion has been substituted for commandment, as it appears, in many cases, that is the way many of the commandments are treated.)

Jeepers creepers, when will this end? Take the first letter of each of those two words, and what do you get? “J C” which are simply the first letters of the name of God’s only Son. Likewise, “OMG,” which often appears in texts, emails, and movies, is simply a stand-in for “Oh my God,” and thus an implicit abuse of the Lord’s Name.

Geez, is nothing safe? Look at that word—isn’t it only the first syllable of the name of Jesus?

The Subtle Danger in Substitutions

Using an abbreviation or an acronym does not change the meaning. For example, “IRS” need not be defined, as for most situations, it simply is the Infernal Revenue Service (I mean, the Internal Revenue Service).

When Satan can get something, as simple as it may appear to be, to become pervasive and thoughtless in society, he has won a battle. While winning a battle may not ultimately lead to winning the war, Satan may simply wish to provide some movement in views, wording, etc., such that he can progress in his intentions. The phrase “Oh my God” or the acronym “OMG” may not appear to be as irreverent as Godd***it, but these may certainly cause us to rack up a serious pile of sins.

Recently, my wife and I got to spend a week with relatives, including a little girl of about five years old. The child may simply have been parroting words or phrases heard on TV or around the house, but many, many times during the day, she would use “Oh my God” as a way to start a sentence or provide emphasis. She was using the phrase much as a Valley Girl uses the word “like.” If this is her vocabulary at five, what may it be at 10, 15, etc.?

The reader may now be thinking, Oh my God, is there nowhere that I can use this phrase?  Certainly. “Oh my God” is perfectly used when it is used as part of a prayer. Let us consider an appropriate use:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven, and the pains of Hell; but most of all because I love Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

What Can Be Done?

In the face of such a widespread problem, how can we attempt a solution? Little by little. Significant changes are frequently made following a series of much smaller steps. It is unlikely that Jack will have built his house all at one time. Most likely, Jack bought the land, then had the cellar dug, then put in footings and concrete, and so on.

The same holds true with our society’s language. If we do not use OMG, GD, JC, etc., in our language, our children may notice. If we correct grandchildren, then perhaps their parents will pay attention. Very small steps.

In those cases where a good ejaculation is required, I will use a random, spontaneous, and non-vulgar word or phrase to fit the moment. As an example, when a significant exclamation is needed, I may use “sufferin’ sweet hockey pucks,” so that there is no possibility of misusing the name of God.

People nearby may ask what the phrase means, and I can tell them it is to avoid using the name of God in vain. Little changes…

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3 thoughts on “You Shall Not Take the Name of the Lord, Your God, in Vain”

  1. As a freshman in high school our class had a similar discussion to this. The spirit of the law means we shouldn’t substitute words when we know, in our hearts and minds, that we’re really meaning the offensive words. Even substituting something as innocuous as sugar as an expletive can be against the second commandment. However, there is a line somewhere in there that probably differs slightly for each of us and for each use since intent is the main requirement in this sin. I try to avoid using substitution words in the same way I would use an expletive, but I definitely fail sometimes. I’ve tried substituting “God” by making it a prayer “God bless America” and I’ve found that it works and often diffuses the situation ‘requiring’ the expletive because it bring to mind the blessings God has given me. Nice article. I’m sharing it with my children aged 9 & 11 to get them on the right track of minding their tongue early.

  2. I know you look for religious subjects to write about, but I think this may be overemphasizing things a touch. I once confessed to having said the first cited expletive in Reconciliation and solemnly indicated that I had taken the name of God in vain. The priest explained to me that, while he in no way condoned those expletives, I was being a little too scrupulous in thinking it to be a mortal violation of the Second Commandment. He provided an an example of an actual violation: me promising to repay a large loan by citing my faith in God as “collateral” to persuade someone to trust me when I had no intention of repaying him. I agree that the cited expletives are terrible things to say and should be eliminated from one’s vocabulary, but I don’t think they really rise to a grave offense as your article implies. If you include such an explanation as I provided, that would put them into perspective. It might lend some balance to your article and provide a more persuasive case than continually citing them as violations of the Second Commandment. Just my two cents.

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