Stand Back!

I’m about to get rebukeful.

Yes, I am. I know that I don’t usually launch into scriptural exhortations . . . but I just have a little something to say.

For a good number of years now I’ve been periodically hearing very sweet Christian women take the Lord’s name in vain. It surprises me every time – and I always stand there doing a mental double-take . . . replaying it again and wondering to myself if she just said what I thought she said or if I misheard. But no – I’ve heard it enough times now that I’m certain I’m not making this up. Quite honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss. I’m not really sure what the rationale is. (And, by way of making the situation weirder . . . I’ve never once heard a Christian guy do it. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but I’ve never been around when it did.)

Is it because it never occurred to them that it’s a problem to take the Lord’s name in vain? I doubt it . . . these are very established Christian ladies, and it’s not like they’ve never heard of this concept. Is it a total accidental slip up which is incredibly embarrassing when they realize what they just said? I don’t think so, because I’ve heard it often enough that it seems a bit more of an issue than that. Is it because the 10 commandments are in the Old Testament and no longer apply? No – at least some of these ladies were definitely not dispensational and so they can’t use that little “Get out of Jail Free” card. So how does this happen then?

I think the only explanation is that they’ve never really stopped and thought about what they’re saying. Sort of a form of verbal scribbling. And considering that we’re going to give an account for every idle word . . . one of the words I would recommend to NOT be used idly is the Lord’s name. And, just to be clear, I would say that includes the words, “Lord,” “God,” . . . and my personal pet peeve, “Lordy.” (Are we on a nickname basis now for cryin’ out loud?)

Now, if I was a person who was flippantly taking the Lord’s name in vain and I wanted to continue to do so and not feel convicted about it, here’s the argument I would make. (Devil’s advocate time now.) I would say that that is NOT what the commandment is talking about. The commandment refers to “bearing” the Lord’s name in vain – essentially violating your baptism by living rebelliously. And to be honest, I completely agree with that. No problems with that explanation whatsoever. But that said, one of the things that would seem to obviously be included would be using God’s name as a lighthearted cuss word. Sure the commandment isn’t just limited to that – but it seems to me that it certainly includes that.

Just a little something to think about. Next time you start off your sentence with “Oh my . . . ” just pay a little attention to how you might be going to finish that thought.

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51 thoughts on “Stand Back!

  1. I so agree, and it is baffling. I’ve noticed “OMG” as well. I have no idea why saying something abbreviated is supposed to make it ok. Also, a bit less problematic, but I personally prefer to not use the term “jeez”. I think it sounds like a derivative of Jesus and so I’m not comfortable throwing it around either.

  2. Thank you, Bekah! It used to not even be allowed on the airwaves as recently as the early 90’s.

    My thoughts on it are that the people using the Lord’s name when they are neither talking to Him or about Him, is that they don’t know what ‘vain’ means. They seem to think in terms of consigning people to hell, not an expression of surprise. When I have spoken to people about it, they tell me that they weren’t thinking. My response is, “Exactly, that would make it ‘in vain.'”

    So I think most of them are unaware. When was the last time you heard a sermon on it? I think since the overriding Christian aspects of our culture are disappearing fast, it would explain the general ignorance.

    I was perhaps overzealous on this once. I mentioned to this one guy that he said ‘Lord’ so many times in his prayer, using it like ‘um’, that I thought that too was in vain. (Wasn’t received well) We can also use the Lord’s name in vain when we sing hymns or Psalms to Him and are not thinking about Him when we do so.

    Vain means empty, not malicious.

  3. I agree with you 100%. I wonder where we have missed the boat in teaching, because I don’t think they are trying to be rebellious. And yes, Natalie, the abbreviation makes my skin crawl.

  4. We also use His name in vain when we use names of his. Jesus is the Word. Yet, I hear Christians say “oh my word” all the time.

    From the Westminster Larger Catechism:

    Question 112: What is required in the third commandment?
    Answer: The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and: Whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and Answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.

    Question 113: What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
    Answer: The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning, or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarreling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it, to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or anywise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.

  5. I have heard a fascinating justification of this once: Saying, “oh my god” is ok — see the lowercase? He meant lowercase — general word, which is not a name of the One True God at all. So there. So such language in movies or tv shows is also not a problem, because they aren’t talking of Jehovah at all.

    I don’t buy it, but I was baffled. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I have the same bugaboo as Heather — using “Lord” or “God” or “Father” so often in a prayer that it’s fairly obvious that you’re not thinking when you say it. I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the other (if we can shade levels on this kind of thing) but it is in the same category somewhere — certainly a violation of the spirit of the commandment

    I’m happy to confess I’ve not seen what Rebekah has seen — otherwise godly, well-behaved Christian women throwing this around. I think if I ran across this, and had reason to believe that the woman wasn’t quite young in the faith, I’d be taken aback, too. But maybe it’s more common than I know, just not among my “crowd.”

  7. This reminds me of a fellow student in my college days who used to always say “Oh, my badness” because only God is good and there is no goodness in me. I wonder then, if we say “Oh, my goodness” is it the same as saying “Oh, my God”? Hmmm.

  8. I’ve noticed this too and I think you’re right correct in assuming it’s “verbal scribbling.” Though I don’t have a habit of taking the Lord’s name in vain, I’ve do my fair share of idle talk I’m sure, so thanks for the rebuke.

  9. Hm. This has happened to me very, very rarely. (I do agree with your post, however.)

    I once asked my pastor’s wife (at the time) about the “oh my word” because of the reasons listed in the comment above. She seemed to not think it was used in the same way because it’s ‘oh MY word’… and we are little; creature, as in not God. Basically she just thought it was a stretch to include that within the commandment.

  10. I totally agree.

    BUT – I grew up Catholic in NYC. I grew up saying this ALL (and unfortunately, I do mean ALL) the time! I don’t let my children say this and yet, in moments of knee jerk (when fear or shock take over) I find that I am speaking this words before I even know that I am speaking (note: – the second that I DO know – I stop). Please – I am in NO WAY excusing this – I have prayed to stop I apologize to God first and listening ears second, BUT (again) I am guilty of this.

    If any have overcome this, could you please tell me HOW? I have and do pray to stop, but I read something like this and cringe – you are speaking of me and I am ashamed. Thank God He is merciful!

    Really any help that you can offer would be greatly appreciated!
    thank you

  11. Thanks so much…..this launched a very fruitful discussion here, and I appreciate your articulate presentation.

  12. I once heard “Ods Bodkins” while in jr. high and thought, ‘Oh! now there’s a fun bit of jibberish for an exclamation!’ So I took to it. But then someone informed me that its roots are in the Anglo-Saxon for “God’s Body.” I stopped using it right away. Moral: Find out what the jibberish means before you use it.

    As far as know, “fodgybodgy” is still safe. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Wow. My post was complete nonsense! “Right correct” and “I’ve do”? Sorry for the fast, incoherent typing. That’s a record number of mistakes for two measly sentences. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I haven’t noticed this much, either. However, I have noticed Christian young women using those three- and four- letter abbreviations (including some truly foul ones) in e-mails and status updates. Please, ladies, if you don’t know what all those letters stand for, don’t use the abbreviation. If you do know what all the letters stand for, even worse.

  15. I know exactly what you’re talking about. And, in fact, I was speaking with someone earlier today who did this exact thing. I have often wondered if these ladies realize what they are saying, and I was a bit surprised when this dear old friend of my mother’s used one of those phrases this afternoon.

  16. Any favorite exclamations? If we gather all the phrases in the above comments and put them in our “don’t use” file, it might be nice to have a “fill in the blank” file.

  17. It saddens me to see Christian women gossip about this rather than confront the offenders face to face.

    “The Christian religion, then, is not an affair of preaching, or prating, or ranting, but of taking care of the bodies as well as the souls of people; not an affair of belief and of faith and of professions, but an affair of doing good, and especially to those who are in want…”
    ~ William Cobbett~

  18. Thank you for the rebuke. I almost never say “God” mindlessly, but for some reason I have no problem saying “Lord”. I just never thought about it as taking His name in vain and no one has pointed it out to me until now. I am sure someone like yourself was standing by in proximity thinking the same things you did.

  19. Since I am around a lot of people whose first language is not English, I hear their versions of taking the Lord’s name. Because it doesn’t sound to me like the same thing, and I hear it a lot, it is quite easy to pick up these expressions. One of them is Allahallah, which rolls of the tongue quite easily. Once aware of it, I couldn’t use it. The reason I mention it is that some of the Old English expressions are really removed from us, so it is really hard to say if it is wrong in the same way as when you are speaking your own language. So don’t use it once you are aware, but I don’t think a person is guilty before God if they have no idea.

  20. Thanks, Rebekah. This reminded me of a certain book titled, “Peculiar Speech”. As Christians, we talk funny. There’s no way around it. One can try and pick up on the world’s subtle/not so subtle language game, but the heathen see right through you (they know it’s a pretense- and there’s no authenticity in your speech), so how then, would they be convicted (God willing) if we are hiding our light by trying to fit in with them and be cool? It. Won’t. Happen. This reminds me of another book recently published, “Unfashionable” by Tullian Tchividjian. He nails this subject on the nose. At those times when I think, “Oh man, I wish I weren’t so different from people at work. I’m just so weird. I wish there was some way to stop all the questions and just have a ‘good day’ and flow easily with everyone.” The trouble is, there are no ‘good days’ (at least not in the way I prefer them to be). I’m always and will always be in a war until I die. We all will who follow God’s Word. But isn’t that the way I’d want it to be? Or would I rather have my way and ‘fit in’? This is where daily baptism comes in-and boy do I need it- God’s Word says, “Be ye not conformed to this world’s image, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This mind renewing is what has to take place everyday, it’s my daily baptism and were it left up to me, I’d be conformed in a heartbeat if it weren’t for friends to remind me (daily baptizing) of who I am and who Jesus is. We are God’s children, and as Christians, we are called to suffer along with Him (Rom. 8) in the sense that we ourselves do feel a bit of the weight and solemnity of the cross or the “Normal Christian Life” (Watchman Nee) in our everyday struggles (being big ones, small ones, some as big as our head). In this, we are tried. It’s one thing to post on a blogroll and whole nother ballgame to put it into practice. All that I can say now is Jesu Juva (Jesus Help Me!). Thank you for posting Rebekah.

  21. P.S. I don’t know why there’s a happy face in that last part there, but I was referring to Romans chapter 8.

  22. Well said including all the comments above. The internet abbreviations are particularly annoying now (since I don’t have too many friends that use the Lord’s name in vain in speech) because I don’t know about you but when I see them I automatically “think” what they are abbreviating.

    I agree with April above, it’s that people want to fit in rather than be set apart. And often they just don’t think.

    Years ago when we attended a mega church the church showed a video clip during the Sunday “seeker” service that included taking the Lord’s name in vain. I was horrified and wrote a letter to the elders telling them so. Their response was that my reaction was extreme and that the whole clip fit the theme of the service that day it should be overlooked.

    I said I was thankful that my reaction was horror and I hope and pray that anytime I hear the Lord’s name used flippantly I’ll react the same. (I do) They laughed at me. Sad. We left that church not soon after that.

  23. Oops… last sentence “We left the church soon after that.” Not sure how the “not” soon got there!

  24. April – the number 8 with a ) after it makes a smillie face with sunglasses, funny oops! ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Something that bugs me is when Christians use ‘safe’ swear words. Like when people say ‘oh, fudge’ instead of another f-word!

    I guess there seems to be a need to have exclamation words and expressions in English. Perhaps that is because we don’t know how to use the language well enough to use its words effectively?

  26. Oddette, no gossip has happened here. Gossip is about specific people. This conversation is about general cultural observations. No one’s character has been attacked. At least one commenter has noted having confronted someone on the issue. Others may have done so and not mentioned it. This is a perfectly appropriate forum in which to discuss the issue, and will likely have a better impact as many women read it, consider it for themselves, and share it with others than if Bekah had just decided to take on the role of language nag.

  27. While I have never formed the habit of saying the Lord’s name(s) in vain, I am guilty of using some euphemisms and secondary names of His in exclamation. I recognize this as sin, am ashamed of it, and I do struggle with it along with many other sinful habits that may not be so easy for others to pinpoint. I do not wish to grieve my Savior.

    I’m of the opinion that generally the Holy Spirit will convict the individuals of the sin as he has done with me, and while the church’s teaching and instruction on these matters is absolutely necessary, we as individuals should be very careful if we feel called to confront someone about their sins. I’m not saying it should never be done, but it never should be done without the clear leading of the Holy Spirit.

  28. So how do we Biblically address this response amongst our brothers and sisters in the Lord when we hear it come out of their mouths, esp. if they end up getting defensive.

  29. Well, I have quite a store of alternative exclamations of surprise, wonder, concern, consternation, and so on. This is a brief sampling.

    Of late my favorites are “Scrats!” and “Scrabbits!” (In college there were some not so handsome squirrels on campus that had either hairless or under-sized tails, hence the names.)

    And now, I don’t know if this will get me in trouble, but Holy ____. Holy Tamales! Holy Frijoles! Holy Mole! Slap on the wrist? Warning? Demerits? I’m not sure…

    If you just throw together two words, let’s say “Wild Budgerigars!”–there you have a perfectly beautiful, and almost universally apropos exclamation for those trying times when meat flies out of the tongs *almost* onto the floor as you try to extract it from a large pot of sizzling butter…not that that happened to me today.

    Oh, and a classic Liz Lemon: NERDS!

  30. I too cringe when I hear people carelessly tossing the Lord’s various names around. I was taught as a Catholic child not to take the Lord’s name in vain so I think whether one speaks like that has to do with the teaching one’s received. I would also get in trouble if I used euphemisms and what sounded like euphemisms. I think that can border on legalism, though. If someone makes the effort to not swear by substituting other words they’re not aware may have their origin in swearing, is it swearing? And if it is considered swearing, does God take the condition of their heart into account or is it just the words that matter? Should we even use interjections at all, most especially when something inconvenient happens?

  31. I think Alli has stated my question. When I first tried to not use “Oh my gosh”, I went to goodness, as if it were better! Then I thought it was perhaps better not to say anything at all. I’m wondering, are interjections revealing a spirit (my spirit!) lacking meekness and strength? Or are they a normal part of our humanness? Or does it just depend on the moment and the heart? We ask our kids not to use the phrase Holy Cow b/c I don’t want them to trivialize the word holy. But I don’t necessarily think it’s as direct (in taking the Lord’s name in vain) as using His exact name(s). Or is it?! And, I have never thought about the use of Oh my word in reference to God’s Word. So maybe the substitutions are different than the direct use of the Lord’s name(s) in that at that point it’s what’s in your heart when you’re saying it? Is it the same in the heart? I don’t know! Any help to these questions?

  32. OK, here’s an off-the-wall idea…since we know Jehovah is holy, we can’t swear in His name (unless, of course, we really mean it, then it isn’t vanity); but can’t we trivialize false deities?

    I always thought “Holy Cow” was OK because it’s mocking to the Hindu religion (unless I’m totally off-base about that, it seems like ladies here know way more about the history of exclamations than I do). Cows aren’t really holy–hence it’s OK to trivialize their importance. Does that open the door to swear in Allah’s name too? How about Buddha? There are lots of idols I would just love to trivialize…(What in Obama’s name is going on here??)

  33. I think that Brittany Martin’s final sentence is the only comment on here that has ever made me laugh heartily. Good one.

  34. As a child my mom told us of how she avoided this problem; she made up her own word(s). She hated rats, and in pairing this with nonsense words she came up with “Ratsaminglefiechi.” Original for sure and long enough to vent some frustration or what have you!

  35. Fantastic post – Yep the abbreviations get me too! Esp Christians who may not necessarily say it out loud but feel its OK to type. We have also stopped watching those house renovation type shows with our kids because of this very reason. Cant people just say WOW or OUCH anymore.

  36. I remember reading this as a possible response to someone who takes our Lord’s name in vain: “God is my Father and Jesus is my brother and I would appreicate you not talking about my family that way.”

    It is sad but true that we toss around words without thinking about their meaning. Some convicting scriptures that come to mind are: James 1:19, “…let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak….” and Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord…”, which leads to Matthew 15:18, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…”. Really our words are a testament to what’s in our hearts and it’s only by God’s work through His spirit and His word that we can have right hearts from which right words flow.

  37. WOWSER…look at this big ole can of worms…

    James 5:12 “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

    I agree, cringe when I hear the obvious stuff but I’ve become convicted because I say “Oh my Word”, and it drives me crazy-and I’ve been trying to break the habit.

    How about these kind of boring but effective words:
    WOO!(ex. WOOO the dog ate her burger off the plate)
    ZOIKS! (stolen from Scooby and Shaggy)
    the following -more exciting exclamations- I copied from the book, “L is for Lollygag, Quirky Words for a Clever Tongue” by…someone…Chronicle Books, I guess (fun book):
    (I try to imagine hearing my kids use these phrases…)

    And if the above v. applies to this particular situation, there’s always “YES!” and “NO!” As in: “YES! I just won a refurbished toaster” and “NO! The dog just ate the burger right off her plate.”

    And I think I (or we) could easily go down a legalistic road of all kinds of problematic words. So I’m going to pray about this (haven’t done that…duh) talk to my hubby, and strive to improve by asking for accountability and having alternate plan for that “moment.” I (we) need to talk with our husbands (or a pastor/elder if single) and the Lord and each be right with the Lord about our own choices in this area-of course I still think the obvious ones should lovingly be confronted-they probably don’t even realize it.
    PLUS, if we “call” someone on it, it may give them the opportunity to say “thank you, I’m trying to break that habit and I appreciate the help.” They get to offer an apology/explanation/defense!

    Golly! (What about THAT one!?)

  38. Lynette — You might want to look up the derivations for some of those you listed. Off the top of my head, egads < ye gods and gadzooks < God’s hooks (i.e., the nails on the cross). Zoiks may be a shortened form of that. Another one not on your list is zounds < God’s wounds. A good online source for word origins is

  39. (Whoops…sorry about the messed up italics there)

    I’m not sure how I feel about minced oaths ( I understand and respect those who are deliberate about avoiding them as a means of giving sin a wide berth, but I’m not sure there’s a clear case that it’s sin to use them. In my case, self-control over my tongue is not one of my strong suits, and there’s a difference in what’s going on in my heart when I’ve used minced oaths versus when I’ve used profanity. And there’s a difference in the response of my conscience. I’ve never found myself repentantly weeping before God over a “good gravy” as I have over the language of an angry outburst.

  40. When in Jr. High I came back from camp saying “Oh Pooh Bear” when frustrated. After a relatively short time, my parents told me to stop. There should be no need to vent frustration.

    I agree with Valerie that when you get so far removed from the origin then to make it a sin seems to be stretching it. Kind of like Christmas trees. Some Christians don’t use them because of the origin, but most of us see that as too far removed, and no one is thinking that way.

    For general information, ‘Allah’ is the Arabic word for God, so Arab Christians use it. Even in Turkish, Christians use that word because they are using the Arabic. The Turks came up with another more authentic Turkish word, so modern translation use Tanri. ‘God’ is from German, but ‘Allah’ is closer to the Hebrew ‘Elohim,’ being related languages. There is a whole long story of how the translators decided to use ‘God’ instead of say ‘Thor’ or ‘Zeus.’

    I think we should know that God always looks at the heart. Anne L. admits here struggle, and you can be sure that God will lead her. I believe that the Bible teaches the best way to control what comes out of your mouth is to control what you think about. “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely….” A good place to start.Maybe that will begin to take care of all the built up frustration that is wanting to vent.

  41. “(What in Obamaโ€™s name is going on here??)” That is funny!

    I do say “Oh My Goodness” when I’m surprised but maybe I should just say “I’m super surprised and impressed with what you just said!”


  42. Thanks, Heather. Your advice is similar to counsel Nancy once gave me: Change the subject. It was a different context, but the same general area of self-control over my thoughts. Let’s just say I’m nowhere near getting the hang of it yet. ๐Ÿ™„

  43. I have to second Hannah on Christian kids using abbreviations when they wouldn’t use the real thing. It’s because of the whole “texting dialect” where everything you say is abbreviated, and since the rest of the world uses “OMG” and “WTF” they think it’s ok for them as well. As an English teacher, the whole abbreviations thing bothers me in general, because it seems like culture is becoming really lazy. I actually had kids turning in papers that said things like “I’d love 2 go.” I think they’re going to forget how to write, thanks to texting culture.

  44. Just a thought: people take the Lord’s name in vain glibly. However, when foul language is used as in the f word or the s word these same people freak out and say: stop swearing. Now I do not think using foul language is appropriate, BUT it is not swearing. Using God’s name in vain is not equal to foul language. For some reason people think that saying OMG is genteel, suave, somehow sort of chique, while using foul language; now that constitutes grossness, abhorrence and a round rebuke.
    I’ve found myself, much to my horror defending foul language against using God’s name in vain and losing the argument hands down. Its seems to be politically correct to rebuke someone for using foul language, but try rebuke someone for saying OMG. Its like rebuking someone for sneezing!

  45. Being from the south the phrase “Oh, my word!” is just something I grew up hearing…and I’m pretty sure I agree with the poster above who mentioned it was about our word and not His…but the point to my comment is that when my oldest was a little girl she didn’t quite hear it said correctly and now our family says, “Oh, my world!”
    I did have to break my youngest of saying “dadgumit!” just because it sound so bad coming form the mouth of a three year old ๐Ÿ™‚

  46. Um, will you still get this comment as I’m a month behind? If you do, will you give your opinion/advice on how to deal with it if you have an unsaved mom from your neighborhood over who is taking the Lord’s name in vain left and right? This happened to me once and I have been so scared to have her over again, b/c I feel like I HAVE to confront her on it next time, and that makes me nervous! Will she feel uncomfortable? YES, and so will I! Is this part of what a “dangerous woman” (from your mom’s excellent post a while back) needs to do?
    I want to reach out to my neighborhood moms, but it is so out of my comfort zone, and this is a perfect example of my total lack of social grace!
    If you have any ideas or thoughts on neighborhood evangelism in general, or this question in particular, I would love to hear them.
    Thanks, and I really really appreciate the work you all put in on this blog. It is so helpful to me!
    Praising our Saviour, Rebekah Rages

  47. Rebekah, my take on the behavior you mentioned is that you cannot go around looking for the world to be holy. If she isn’t a believer, there is NO reasonable expectation that she will act like one. We are all saved by grace. Show her some by giving hospitality and friendship. If you take her to the woodshop on this one, you might lose a beautiful chance to minister to her on a regular basis.

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