Taking the Lord's name in vain and the 12 commandments

What does it mean to take the lord's name in vain?

I have recently been pondering this question. I think this question first formed in my mind when my boyfriend who was brought up Catholic became angry with me after I pulled one of my favorite Quaker jokes. He had misplaced a citation for his dissertation proposel and exclaimed, "Jesus Crist." I naturally answered, "yes." He looked at me and told me to watch my mouth, that that was blasphemous language. I replied, "No, there is that of god in all of us. So my responding to your utterance of 'Jesus Christ' is less blasphemous." At which point I think he quit listening ( I never said we were a functional couple).

However, the idea of what constitutes taking the lord's name in vain has continued to roll around in my brain. The answer that keeps coming to me, is that we take this statement too literally. That it is not as simple as avoiding using phrases like, "Jesus H. Christ" or "God Damn It."

The 10 Commandments begin:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

---Exodus 20:1-7, New International Version

It has occurred to me, that we misuse god's name a lot. We worship money, beauty, and youth...and sometimes god. We say that god doesn't like this or that. We have presidents who think they are here by some devine decree and then arrange wars, cheat the poor, and pamper the rich. I think that a lot of the talk about it being god's will to do this or believe that is in fact taking the Lord's Name In Vain. Who are we to know? Yes, you can try to be faithful, but part of being a vessel of the Lord is to discern what is worldly pride motivating us and what is divine humility. I think that every time we act with hate, prejudice, malice, or in any un-Loving manner we are taking the Lord's name in vain.

One of the main points Jesus makes in his teachings is the importance of love. I think that is infact what makes him stand out amongst the prophets of the Bible...LOVE.

Love the Lord your God with all with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and all the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Matthew 22:37-40 New International Version

Because these two commandments that Jesus brought us are two of the hardest in many ways, that might answer why we are still so far from creating a lasting Kingdom of God here on Earth. Act from the divine; act from love.

1 comment:

RichardM said...

This afternoon headed back to the office after lunch I waited for the light to turn with two students. It took me a second to notice that they both wore red ties, blue shirts, khaki pants and brown loafers. Ahh, fraternity boys. What's this got to do with your post? Well, part of the Jewish Law was just like the rules those boys were following to join the frat. They were arbitrary rules just designed to distinguish between "us" and "them." Don't eat shrimp but you can eat flounder. Don't eat pig but you can eat cow. etc. In the Ten Commandments you also find such "us" vs. "them" rules. Jews and only Jews will refuse to work on the Sabbath. And the Jewish tribal God--Yahweh--is to be worshipped in exclusion of other Gods and his name is to treated with great care--for names contain magical powers. This, in short, is how I think the Jews viewed things back in the days of King David.

The Ten Commandments also contain things that are ethical common sense--don't steal, don't murder, don't commit adultery, etc. that you will find in other traditions. But the Torah also contains a good deal of tribalism. But the Jews reflected critically on their own tradition and criticism of narrowness and tribalism is found in both the Prophets and in the Wisdom literature. Martin Luther King quotes Amos about how justice will flow like water in his "I have a dream" speech. The larger context of this quote is one where Amos is critical of ritualistic religion which taught that by sacrificing animals at the Temple you are pleasing God. Amos says in effect--that's BS--to please God treat your neighbor justly. This prophetic tradition of trying to see the universal just and loving God beneath the tribal God of the Jews comes to fruition in Jesus.