Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Taking the Lord's Name In Vain
You're not taking the Lord's name in vain when you use the phrase "god damn".
When you say god damn something, you're wishing that terrible things would happen to it. In biblical terms, "terrible things" can be, well...terrible, including: molten lava, infestations of frogs or locusts, death of the first born and really uncomfortable skin conditions.
For Jews and Christians, the Lord's name isn't "God" it's "Yahweh", meaning: I Am. I Am is a really cool name for a number of reasons that I might write about later. For Muslims, God's name is "Allah".
Knowing God's name is a big deal. When God gave Moses his name, it gave Moses authority when he returned to deal with his people and Pharo. For regular people, knowing God's name gives them authenticity in their worship and indicates their special relationship with God as the chosen people.
Many of the older parts of the bible try to define this idea of one god and what God is. It recognizes that people worship gods other than Yahweh. In some places, it seems to say these other gods are real but inferior to Yahweh, in others it seems to say these other gods are just imaginary.
Several of the commandments God gives Moses try to deal with these issues directly. The very first one is "I am God, (the one god) and you won't worship any other gods before me." That's pretty plain speaking.
When God commands Moses not to "take the Lord's name in vain", he means that we shouldn't try to get away with worshiping other gods by giving them the name, Yahweh. It's similar to the commandment where God tells us not to make and worship idols. An idol is not God. God is Yahweh.
You see, the most human thing in the world is to try and make God be whatever you want him to be. Since God is intangible, it's pretty easy to do. By commanding us not to take his name in vain, God is saying he is what he is. He is real and not subject to our wishes and imagination.
So, don't feel bad the next time you say "goddamn it". It may be a bit extreem to wish a plague of frogs on something, but, you're not taking the Lord's name in vain.
Image credit: one of my favorite engravings by the brilliant Gustave Doré