I surveyed a number of people I know, both IRL and online, and asked them, “What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain.” The most popular response was the GD bomb. This rang true with my upbringing where I was taught that misuse (mostly paring the word God with a cuss word) is in violation of Exodus 20:7 and was often quoted, “Though shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” Now, I have no argument against the idea that dropping the ol’ GD is bad. It can’t be good to ask God to damn, or declare that God has damned, something. Right? But I think the issue goes much deeper and into a much more uncomfortable place than simply minding the words you say.
I have a friend who first brought this to my attention some time ago. He shared a sermon he had heard where the pastor related taking the Lord’s name in vain to how a woman (traditionally) takes a man’s last name when joining in marriage. The analogy went something like someone who only gets married for the benefit and not out of love. They’ve changed their name in representation of becoming one with the other person, but they really haven’t. They did it only out of some personal gain… in vain or in vanity.
I like that analogy. It certainly holds true to the meaning of, “In vain” according to Strong’s Concordance. But, unless the person who married in vain does something illegal then what is the outcome? Maybe they get away with it. After all, there is no law against marrying for money as far as I know.
But then there’s good old fashion fraud. Let’s shift this analogy just a bit. There’s this thing called a power of attorney (PoA). We in the military use these often when we deploy. We will normally grant power of attorney to our spouse or close relative in order to handle some of our affairs while we are off doing war stuff. There are two basic types of PoA; general and limited. A general PoA means that the person named on the piece of paper can act in your name in legally binding ways without limitation. They can open bank accounts, get new credit cards, buy and sale real estate and cars… you get the picture. A limited PoA is just as the name implies. The person named can only do what the paper says… like pay a bill or sell a car.
Jesus says whatever we ask in his name we’ll be given (John 14:13-14). God says to not take (use) the Lord’s name in vain else bad things will happen.
There’s a problem with granting someone power of attorney over your affairs, especially the general type. You have to trust that person to not use your name in vain. In many cases the military implores us to not grant a general PoA to anyone… even a spouse. There are many tales of the unfaithful or vengeful spouse using the granted power to wreck the deployed person’s finances, credit, and life.
Jesus has given us more of a limited PoA. What he hasn’t given us is a neat, orderly list of what we may and may not ask for. What we have instead is Psalm 37:4. We’re told that if we delight in the Lord that he will give us the desires of our heart. Careful on how you read that! It means he changes what you desire, not that he’ll give you what you desire in this moment. So as we grow into a more Christ centered life, the desires of our heart shift to be the needs of the mission of the great commission.
I say all that to ask these self evaluation questions.
When you say you’re a Christian or a follower of Christ or however you put it, are you taking the Lord’s name out of love or some sort of gain?
When you pray and petition Jesus for whatever you’re asking in that moment, are you asking in his name for his mission or yours?
I welcome your comments and discussion!