What's in a Name?

Lately, I have heard more and more Christians carelessly throwing out the phrase “oh my God!” or “good Lord!” or some other variation of God’s name, in moments of frustration or annoyance without any second thought to what they just said. Hearing someone take our God’s name in vain is something that has always bothered me, but even more so when that person claims to be a Christian.

Out of everyone in the world, we as Christ’s chosen people know the reverence and fear we should have of the Lord, and that we are explicitly commanded not to take His name in vain (Exodus 20:7).  As a side note, I believe taking God’s name in vain includes more than saying “Oh my God” and other phrases, but this is definitely still included.

Some Christians might argue (and some have) that “God” is not actually our God’s name, which is true: the name God identifies Himself as is “YHWH” (written as LORD in all caps in English translations).  So yes, technically speaking “God” is not His “name,” but we as Christians, and even non-Christians, use the name “God” to refer to Him. So to us, “God” is more or less synonymous with the name “YHWH”.

Even still, I don’t see why Christians should need to argue that they have the freedom to say “oh my God.” I don’t understand how you can make any argument that God is pleased when we say these types of exclamations, even if they are not his name. In essence, you are referring to the God we worship as an expression of anger or frustration, which is not how we should revere God Himself.

I remember in Dr. Ward’s Old Testament class my freshman year when discussing this matter, Dr. Ward said, “why on earth would you turn the name of someone you love into a swear word?” That really brought this whole thing home for me. My roommate Obed is one of my best friends here at Covenant, but I would never use his name as an expression of anger. It sounds absurd to do that with the name of a friend or family member, so why would we do that with the God of the universe who loves us and calls us His children?

I want to be clear that I’m not saying if you have said “oh my God,” etc., in a moment of anger or annoyance that you are not a Christian or that there is just no hope for you. Admittedly, I have too on several occasions, but it’s not something that I am proud of. I recognize that we are all sinners and messed up, but I urge you to try to break the habit of taking our Lord’s name in vain if that is something you struggle with. If we talk just like the rest of the world and behave in the ways they do, are we really living out our faith in Christ? If we want others to believe what we tell them we believe about God, we need to treat Him with the reverence and fear that He deserves as Almighty God.