Apart from the department secretary, a 60-something, frequently dour woman whose desk was mercifully way down the hall, I was the lone female in the office of my first full-time job out of college.
My coworkers were a racially, ethnically, socially and religiously diverse group, fun and friendly, always ready to joke and tease me. Based on the frequency with which many of them used God’s name, you would think they were well acquainted with God. I was at first horrified with the expletives that flew so easily out of their mouths, particularly those attached to God’s name.
It’s not that I hadn’t heard such language before. The girl who had the locker above mine throughout high school had a mouth as foul as anyone I’ve ever known. But I thought it would be different in the adult world. Surely people’s abilities at self-expression would be further developed.
I was wrong.
I must have winced the first couple of times I heard my coworkers abuse God’s name, because they began to modify their conversations somewhat. Their expletives came no less frequently but were usually followed by, “Oh, sorry,” at least when I was around.
Language that then was so shocking to me can now be heard regularly in school hallways and on playgrounds. And how many times a day do we hear someone—even preschoolers—say, in surprise or for emphasis, “Oh my God!”
Before we pull a muscle patting ourselves on the back for our own exceptionally civil language, however, we need to unpack the third commandment a little more. When we do, we’ll discover that as God’s people, we too are guilty of misusing God’s name. Profane speech is not the only way to use God’s name carelessly and disrespectfully.
We misuse God’s name when we say we love God yet ignore other people and their needs.
We misuse God’s name when we claim to follow Christ but hold other people at arm’s distance, even treating some with suspicion and contempt.
We misuse God’s name when we fail to show others the same love, mercy and grace we have received from God.
We misuse God’s name when try to justify as “God’s will” the outcomes of our unwise decisions.
We misuse God’s name when we pray selfishly, asking God to place the divine stamp of approval on our catalog list of wants and perceived needs.
We misuse God’s name when we worship thoughtlessly and carelessly, mouths full of praise but hearts and souls stone cold.
Our attempts to attach God’s name to something do not obligate God in any way to support, respond, endorse, enact or react. God has made it perfectly clear: The divine name cannot be manipulated or bound to anything outside the divine nature and character.
We certainly should be careful how we speak to and about God. But we should be equally careful how we live before God and with others.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.