Wrongful Use of the Name

Life Worship Notes—February 6, 2104 

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7

Names have power. Names describe what something is and is not, and they limit the perceived essence of the named. For example, the name of the tree outside my window is River Birch. That name establishes it is not an oak, a maple, or a redbud. The name also establishes it as a tree, and not a raccoon, a daffodil, or a mountain. Names define and limit the named in ways that help it be known. When we realize that names have power, we understand that misusing a name is a misuse of power. The early Israelites asked Moses for the name of God. God’s answer, in Exodus 3:14, was “I am who I am.” The people wanted to know something about God, something that would make God more knowable; but God refused to provide a name that limited God’s nature in any way.

Some Bible versions translate this commandment as saying not to use God’s name in vain. However, I believe that translation misses the commandment’s broader meaning. We can misuse God’s name in ways that have nothing to do with cussing. For example, I believe we misuse God’s name when we overemphasize the masculine aspect of God’s nature by constantly referring to God as “He.” Certainly, the Bible is full of masculine references to God; indeed, even Jesus referred to God as Father. Given the male-dominated cultures the Bible arose from, the masculine emphasis is not surprising. However, the true nature of God certainly transcends earthly gender. Unfortunately, referring to God in male terms disenfranchises those who have unjustly suffered at the hands of cruel, abusive fathers or other men on earth. In order to reach these broken souls, we must reach out in ways that help them break their connection between God and a specific human male. My only point is that, while it may be comfortable and common to refer to God as “He,” it is a naming of God that limits God is perceived nature in a way that repels some people. Ultimately, God is not a “He” or a “She.” God is who God is.

This is not to let us off the hook for using God’s name in vain. When we make a common statement of profanity, asking God to “damn” something or someone, we are asking the source of all power in the universe to focus a curse on some object or person. Is that really our intent? Using such language is a clear misuse of the power of the name of God, and one we can only hope God will choose to ignore. Clearly, we need to use God’s name with care and reverence, both for ourselves and for others. Implying erroneous limits to God’s nature or essence, or using the power available through God’s name to the detriment of others are what the third commandment encourages us to avoid.

Come home to church this Sunday. God is calling your name.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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