Two More of My Cents

Now that I’ve officially sailed out and gotten involved in a discussion about taking the Lord’s name in vain, I feel that I am rather obligated to say something else . . . lest anyone infer things about what I meant. As I cruised through the comment section I began to be a bit afraid that perhaps I had misjudged my audience.

Quite honestly, I read the comments all in a lump so I hope I’m not being too pointed about any one particular person. I don’t actually have any one person in mind. But the vibe I was getting was that actually this is a crowd comprised of a lot of people who perhaps need to loosen up a smidgeon. Yes, as I said before, I know for a fact that there are people out there who need to tighten it up. But then again . . . as my father is so fond of saying . . . there’s a ditch on both sides of the road. And at the risk of now appearing to be obnoxiously contrarian, I am now about to turn and say a word to the other ditch.

There’s a very real danger of getting downright pharisaical about this. The impulse to fence the law is as old as dirt – and Christ was always rather pointed in His rebukes of this practice. God gave us the law, and that was good enough. We don’t need to embellish it, add to it, fancy it up, or make it too complicated. Thinking up numerous ways in which we could obliquely take the Lord’s name in vain (and thus be guilty of great transgression) falls straight into that category. God said not to take His name in vain. So don’t. Don’t use His name flippantly. But also don’t start fencing the law and drawing a wide, wide circle around what could possibly be construed as His name. “Heavens” is not His name. “By golly” is not His name. “Word” is not His name. “Man” is not His name. “Goodness” is not His name. Don’t get all wound up about those.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was God. But, at the risk of getting complicated, “word” is also a word that we use in other ways. We don’t need to put a moratorium on the word “word” unless we’re prepared to ban it from regular speech altogether in case of accidental misuse. And this of course quickly spirals out of control. We are also told that Jesus is the Way. And I truly hope that no one would argue that we can’t say “no way!” Jesus is that Truth . . . but we can all say “that’s the truth” without having to repent of commandment-breaking.

Basically all I’m saying is that once you start down that road it quickly gets ridiculous. And that is actually totally detrimental to protecting God’s name . . . turning the commandment into a ludicrous, legalistic rule is what will make everyone roll their eyes at you and laugh at the whole subject.

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33 thoughts on “Two More of My Cents

  1. Amen! I am fond of saying that a person can fall off the horse on either side, and since my kids LOVE horses that’s always a good mental picture for them. We’re trying to shoot for staying on the horse and keeping our balance. No one is perfect in that I’m sure, I know I haven’t been. Swinging to extremes, over-correcting, etc. happens, but praise be to God for giving us plenty of grace as he helps bring our pendulum down to the center.

  2. Thank you, thank you for adding this post to the discussion! Something needed to be said and I’m glad that you were the one to say it. :-)

  3. Good post, thank you.
    As I think about it more, I believe you’re right, that euphemistic exclamations are not necessarily sin. I should not have referred to them as such.
    I was one of those who wrote a comment in the previous post that I am trying to avoid euphemisms in exclamation. That is because I have come to understand that it is a habit that leads *me* to sin. I won’t explain further but I do not believe euphemisms lead everyone else to sin and do not hold up my individual issue to make a rule for everyone else. I was thinking only of myself and how it pertains to me. There are many times Christians have made new “rules” for everyone else to follow based on their own personal weaknesses. This should not be. (It’s plenty hard enough to follow God’s commandments!)

  4. A question from a spanish speaking woman: (me)

    What does it mean “O my gosh”? We hear it all the time, but as I always tell my children, no matter how well you speak another language, there are certain idioms that you better be sure what they mean before you start using them… right now, we still don’t know what does this little phrase means… so we don’t use it all 😉

    Blessings.

  5. Bekah, I have found that it can be tricky to be heard in full on the internet or to understand completely what another person is trying to say. Unless you want to take the time and space to fill up a few pages for a post, you find you have cut some thoughts out. However, in this case I am glad you came back and filled in the hole. Pettiness can be such a burden in the Christian life. I find it is one thing that can quickly rob us of our God given joy. Life is already full of hard work and many struggles. When we start to add our own man made binds to our lives and the lives of others, it is good to question our motives. I think that often our man made rules are easier to follow because we made them up and we understand what we were thinking when we did so. But God’s expectations of us take wisdom to discern. And our actions may need to change from situation to situation and that just isn’t as easy to plug an answer out of.
    I will say that we do have a problem in our society with flippant tongues. In general I believe we are a TV influenced culture. And as in the land of television all of our dialogue must be externalized, as opposed to a well read culture that is bought up knowing that internal dialogue is essential to peaceable living. Anyway, thanks for coming around for another go at the topic. I for one feel much better about my habitual Holy Mackerel response to all things exciting, and I am not longer convicted to call you up about your Good Heavens post on Fortnightly. :) :)

  6. Amen. Amen. AMEN!

    Also, a word about the internet abbreviations-my kids and kids they hang around with all have substituted abbreviations for the ones they use. So like OMG to them means “Oh my goodness” and there was a couple others they have changed. That way it still gets the generally understood meaning across (surprise or whatever)but because they all understand it that way, it isn’t an offense.

    I just thought I’d add that because if someone came across some Christian kids using them, it wouldn’t be right to assume that they are using them with swearing in mind. At least the group my kids are in this has been thought about. Though if you know them in real life and know they talk like a toilet all the time…

  7. Becky,

    Generally, people will say that “Oh my gosh!” is a twist on “Oh my God!”. It’s like saying “What the heck?” instead of “What the hell?” I think.

  8. Thanks for elaborating. I read the comments on the other post as well and thought, really? Now I have even MORE phrases to worry about! I did think some of those were a stretch.

  9. Kerri, I really have no problem with using “OMG” in a context where the ‘G’ is genuinely understood by all to mean “Gosh” or “Goodness” or “Gooseberries” or whatever. And there will probably come a point when those abbreviations are, like “egad,” far enough removed from the original meaning that nobody even remembers the connection to the words they once stood for.

    However, I think most of those abbreviations are fresh enough that when people read them they know exactly what they stand for, and in a public forum like a blog or facebook, you can’t type ‘WTF’ and expect your dear readers to know that the ‘F’ when you type it actually stands for “fudge,” even though for the other 99.9% of the world it stands for something entirely different.

    So sure, the Merkles can say, “We’re friendly locals,” at home expecting the rest of the family to know that they really mean, “Hey, we match!” But if they said it to a group of strangers, nobody would understand what they were talking about. Words (and their abbreviations) are not quite as flexible as that, and we should never expect the rest of the world to get our little inside jokes.

  10. Yep.

    One thing about euphemisms… I was raised in a godly home by parents who deeply love Jesus. Taking the name of the Lord in vain was talked about as the sin it is, but my folks did say things like, “Golly”, “My gosh”, etc. Never did I think those exclamations stood for the blasphemous options, never in my mind were they a baptized replacement. They just were what they were. Imagine my shock when a former pastor rebuked me for saying “Oh my goodness” because (he said), “There is no goodness in us”. As you said, Nancy, lighten up.

  11. I’ve actually seen the omg thing changed to omg-ness just to make sure it wasn’t misunderstood :-)
    Honestly one of the biggest issues I have with most of today’s slang/shorthand is how utterly ignorant or flighty the user sounds…not something I want to cultivate in my teenage daughter.

  12. I’m relieved you did a follow-up post, Bekah! I was getting worried and asked my husband if he thought it’s wrong to say ‘oh my goodness’ (I say it a lot!) and he didn’t think so, but with all the comments flying around I was starting to feel guilty. Why is it so easy to feel guilty as a woman?! :-) (I appreciated the Guilty Parents article your husband wrote, by the way!)

  13. I once knew a girl in Bible college who refused to say or use the word “Hell,” even when referring to the actual place. Things got really amusing when she had to write an essay on Hell for her theology class. Somehow she made it through the whole thing with variations on the terms “place of fire,” “place down below,” etc. I think I know what ditch she was in.

  14. Thank you for writing this. Refreshing to my soul and helpful in clearing my mind about this. It’s why I keep reading Femina!

  15. I just wanted to drop in here and say that Crystal’s comment up there was intelligently and brightly said! Thanks so much for taking the time to write that.

  16. Thanks for the edifying thoughts. =)
    The heart, my heart, is a crooked thing. Even without foul words, I am capable of much deceit and the evils of self-righteousness. Wisdom requires both rightness of heart and action.

  17. Hannah, my point wasn’t to necessarily legitimize the practice, merely to point out that you DON’T always know what the person is meaning, if they generally seem to have decent character it is best to err on the side of charity.

  18. Kerri, of course I agree with you about erring on the side of charity when interpreting someone else’s words or actions. When I see sweet Christian girls using phrases like “WTF,” I always assume they either intended some alternate meaning or are clueless about what those letters actually stand for. After all, I know they would never say those words out loud.

    That said, do we want to be the ones putting others in the uncomfortable position of thinking we’re either clueless or don’t actually mean what we’ve said or written? Clarity is difficult enough to achieve on the internet without adding to the problem by trying to reinvent the meanings of particular words or letters.

    A Christian girl can dress like a prostitute and only be trying to “look cute.” But her appearance still communicates something else (and loudly), whether or not she intended it. And she can’t deny what it means to the public by simply thinking, “Oh, everybody knows I’m not that kind of girl!”

    When we are the ones speaking (or texting), we should think through how our words are likely to be understood and not simply expect others to apply the most charitable interpretation to our ill-chosen phrases.

    In short, toward others’ words be charitable. Toward our own words be critical.

  19. When I say “oh my gosh,” I am thinking, “Nonsense syllable gosh.” Same with all those other words. They do not “really mean” something other than that, in my mind as I am using them.

    IOW, I think we have to judge for ourselves what’s going on when we say something. I do try to avoid what some people call “minced oaths” (which aren’t, because I’m not mincing anything) around people who are sensitive to that. And the argument could be made that my speech would be generally improved if I eschewed all such expressions. But the argument CANNOT be made that I am just using the Lord’s Name in vain by other means, because in my mind they are, and have never been anything but, nonsense syllables. I’m *aware* that they have other connotations, but I am not thinking of that when I use them. And other people shouldn’t be judged or told off for using them, when their intent may be so far removed from anything having to do with the Lord’s name that it would be falsely impugning them to say so. For other people, OTOH, there may be something going on inside that does signify that they are trying to “get away” with misusing the Lord’s name. But that’s a matter of conscience.

    That, I think, is what Bekah’s addressing here.

  20. Hannah summed it up best — judge ourselves critically, others charitably. I’d just add, please don’t tell people what words “really mean,” as though that is more important (at the moment) than what the person meant by them. Perhaps it is good to inform people at appropriate times, but not in such a way that implies that you know “what they mean” better than they do, based on something you once found out about what a word originally meant.

  21. After reading this second portion of this topic, I have breathed a huge sigh of relief.

    While reading the first post’s comment section, my whole body began tensing up. Rules. More rules. Rules upon rules. Shove that air out of the lungs and put that corset on. Cinch it tight. That’s how I felt, anyhow.

    I am glad for another post on this topic—to give us a panorama of what you had in mind. Better perspective. A dashing reminder to not get all legalistic.

    Huge sigh of relief. Thank you.

  22. Bekah,

    hats off to you for bringing balance….please forgive my post if i was out of line.

    oh it is easy for any of us to be taken out of context…i am finding that true when it comes to blogging. someone commented that God’s name or euphamisms can lead one to “sin.” so many things can, yet, i think when it comes to godliness, we are lacking in so many areas as believers. speech (words)is one of them. i do know that when we know someone and we hear these euphamisms or God’s name taken in vain, we might have an inkling of their character and intent. only God knows the heart, but we are to help others to grow in Godliness, so the goal is to always show the scripture and allow God’s word to reveal the heart. it seems more often the context or tone behind the words is the issue.

    so whether in ministry or with family my husband and i attempt to draw others to examine the scripture and as David said, “search me Oh God and know my heart, see if there is any wicked way in me…”

    these discussion are probably best had in live format.

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