OMG RU 4 real???

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Deuteronomy 5:11

Ok, bear with me on this one.

When I was a kid we were taught the ten commandments (I grew up in a Christian family that attended a Southern Baptist church, traditional and conservative; what we were taught was the actual list of commandments, not the Charlton Heston movie).  It was mostly assumed that we wouldn't be killing anyone (at least not anytime soon) and that adultery and coveting our neighbor's wife were at the least a long ways off.  So, attention was normally focused elsewhere.  Things like "do not steal," "do not lie" (bear false witness) and "honor your father and mother" normally received special regular attention. When it came to the commandments about God, again, there wasn't much concern about us worshiping idols, and our parents usually saw to it that we observed the Sabbath (in so far as it involved going to church on Sundays), and we were being taught all the time that there was just one God and that His name was Jesus (they didn't get too much into the concept of the Trinity; I guess they thought we'd be confused; whatever would give them that idea?).  So, from those first four commandments (you can find the whole list here or here), we were mainly taught to not take the name of the LORD our God in vain.

In those years, as my fellow young Christians-in-training and I wrestled with the concepts of sin and depravity we were led to understand that taking God's name in vain was a really big deal.  Of course we were left with the question of what exactly it meant to take His name in vain.  The way we basically understood it was this: if you use God's name in any way other than in talking directly to Him or about Him then you're taking it in vain.  The most common way in which we had seen this sin committed was when people would use His name in either shock, anger or frustration.  You know what I mean.  "Oh, my God, I can't believe Susan cheated on Rick with him!" (maybe it would have been okay if Susan had cheated on Rick with someone else, I don't know) or "Jesus Christ!  Get the hell out of here!"  Something like that.  Of course, God has so many names in the Bible, but it never occurred to us to consider any of those.  We were only worried about the names we knew Him by: "God" and "Jesus" (we didn't really count the Holy Spirit; for one thing, no one ever talked about Him much; for another, His name had an awful lot of syllables and didn't really roll of the tongue in a way that made His name an adequate exclamation).  The worst you could do though was to combine His name with one of the dreaded curse words like "dammit."

Below is a short bit from Bill Cosby: Himself that illustrates a bit what I'm talking about.

So, anyway, as a child we already knew that when it came to the ten commandments, at least the ones "they" really seemed to harp on, we weren't doing too good.  Lying seemed to be a part of our DNA (though we were completely unaware of the existence of DNA at the time).  We regularly committed acts both big and small that not only didn't honor our father and other but often outright dishonored them.  In fact, most of us had already stolen something, even if it was just the special edition Snake Eyes figure our friends had but we didn't.

Well, since we weren't doing too good with the rest, we all somehow collectively resigned that we would at least avoid taking our Lord's name in vain.  It seemed pretty easy, after all.  Why?  Because we'd still say the same things.  We'd just alter them ever so slightly.  Therefore new phrases entered our regular repertoire of expressions, phrases like "oh, my gosh/goodness/gah" and "jeez" and the ever-so-popular "gosh darnit!"

This compromise worked well for us for awhile.  We were able to "sound adult" (after all, they were the ones we heard using His name in vain, not us) and yet keep a gold star beside one of the big ten and consider ourselves good Christians (or at least better than the heathens around us).  Our idyllic gosh darn life of sin-free expression fell apart, though, once we became teenagers.  It's not because we just gave up and started talking like drunken sailors come in to port (though some of us did).  Instead it was because we became aware of a sin that had yet to have been revealed to us yet: substitute cursing.  Let me explain.

You see, for years in Christian youth ministry there was a huge emphasis on changing our behavior.  We couldn't be like all of the other teenagers at our schools who were basically junior hedonists according to the adults.  We had to be different from them.  After all, Jesus was different from the world.  However, the weird thing is that instead of focusing on what we should do or how we should be in order to be different, the focus was instead on what all of these "lost" teenagers were doing so that we would know what we shouldn't be doing.  We shouldn't drink.  We shouldn't smoke.  We shouldn't do drugs.  We shouldn't have sex.  We really shouldn't make out even (dating was often up for debate too).  We shouldn't cheat.  We shouldn't break curfew.  We shouldn't go to wild parties.  Etc.  Of course, included in this list was that we shouldn't curse (or cuss, as we knew it in the South), and evidently taking the Lord's name in vain was cursing.

However, it wasn't enough to simply not curse.  The compromises that had kept our speech sin free for so long were now put on trial.  The reason being that just because we didn't actually say the curse words themselves didn't mean we weren't cursing.  Even though we were using different words, we were still committing the same sins.

"Oh, shoot," we thought and then realized we had just sinned by thinking "shoot" instead of what we really meant.  "What are we going to do now?"

In response to that question, a split occurred in the youth of the American Church.  Some adhered to these new guidelines.  They embraced them with the hope that they too, along with all the other rules by which we were to live, would keep them from Satan's clutches and ensure that they stayed in God's will and came to dwell with Him one day in Heaven for all eternity.  Others gave up completely and decided the whole church/God/Jesus/commandment thing wasn't for them.  Many were never heard from again (others grew up, got married, had kids, and decided their kids needed all those rules they were taught and are now back in churches all over the place).

The rest of us rebelled.  This doesn't mean that we abandoned our faith.  We didn't.  We just saw through the bull-honkey and became cynical about almost everything we'd been taught.  You see, we realized that drinking underage was not only not a good idea but was also illegal, but the arguement that the wine Jesus and His disciples drank in their day was just grape juice didn't hold water for us anymore.  After all, how did people get drunk on it?  Those of us who adopted the "everything but" strategy of waiting on true love realized that our sexuality was pretty awesome, but we had been led to believe that it was pretty bad, possibly evil even, and something to be avoided all together because it was flat out wrong.  We began to think that words were just words and that useage is what gave them their meaning.  Plus we weren't too convinced that the Bibles teaching's against cursing involved specific words that began with "F" and "S."

Therefore, there were a lot of those rules and commandments that we kinda just stopped worrying about.  We still wanted to know God and Jesus (and even the Spirit).  We just mistrusted that we had really been taught who He was up to that point.  We believed we were somewhat on our own and, also, that we were right.  We began emerging (wink, wink).

A lot of us have grown up, though, and matured a bit.  We've let go of (at least some of) the bitterness we've carried around with us.  We've realized that in some instances we tossed out the baby with the bathwater and have since come around to re-exploring what really is important and sometimes being surprised at what we find.

This al now brings me back to the commandment to not take the Lord's name in vain.  I'm no Hebrew scholar by any means, but I've got a couple of degrees in the Christian religion, and during my time "earning" those degrees I've had four full semesters devoted to the Old Testament and three to studying Hebrew.  So, I've looked at the Law a little bit.  One of the things I've learned is that when dealing with the Law there is a letter and a spirit.  In other words, there is a strict literal applicaiton of what the Law (or a law) says and then the general sense that it may more imply rather than explicitly state.

Let's take a couple for instance: 1. "Do not murder."  Pretty straightforward.  The letter is that you shouldn't kill.  The spirit is that  life is valuable, yours as much as mine, and that it shouldn't be deliberately denied one of us by the other (this is a gross over-simplification for the sake of illustration; I fully acknowledge the complex nature of what I'm talking about, this comand in particular with how it relates to circumstances of war, captial punishment, self-defense, etc.).  As followers of Christ we have been set free from the Law (Romans 8:2), but that doesn't mean that we are not called to still adhere to its spirit (Hebrews 10, for example).  With regard to this command, though, in order to keep the spirit of the law I must adhere to the letter of the law.  2. For this one, let's use one personal to me: Leviticus 19:28.  "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves."  Now the letter of this law, again, is pretty straightforward, but what's the spirit?  Well, when you study it in context you realize that the entire block of verses in which this falls is about the people of God distinguishing themselves from the nations who worshiped other gods.  As part of that worship and devotion they would often carve markings into their skin or tattoo themselves with various symbols.  Now, the spirit we are to adhere to, then, is to be about the things of God and not the things of this world or of other false gods.  Not getting a tattoo can certainly be a way in which that happens, but is it essential?  I sure don't see that it is.

So, let's take Deuteronomy 5:11.  In order to know the letter we have to ask what it means to take the Lord's name in vain.  What this verse is specifically addressing is the swearing by God in the taking of an oath or the making of a vow.  The idea was that by invoking the name of a god in an agreement or promise, there would be this magical seal.  It was a way for people to assure others or persuade others.  God doesn't like to be used like that.  In fact, one of the things God has continuously proved is that He will not be "used" or manipulated at all, hence the forbidding of trying to do so. Okay.  So, what's the spirit?  Well, as I see it, the spirit of this law is to treat God with the reverence He deserves.  This seems to concern itself with doing this by reserving His name for its proper use (in prayer, praise, etc.) by not having it tainted through improper use.

Now, there's never a moment when I use His name (whether seriously or flippantly) or hear it used that I don't think of Him, however brief that thought might be.  Even when I hear His name used in a manner in which I deem it inappropriate, I'm not tainted.  Rather I think of Him and how it must pain Him.  Even if I exclaim, "oh, my God," in shock at some situation or cry out, "Jesus, that hurt," when stubbing my toe, my thoughts actually go to Him, though I didn't really intend for it to be so.  Therefore the spirit and letter of this law can crossover a lot but also contain many more shades of gray than black and white.

I've brought this up because of the common uses of "OMG" and "OMFG" (you can figure out what "F" is, can't you?) and other abbreviations that have become so commonplace.  Yes, it's an example of what some pastors from my young adult years would call "substitue cursing" and I do think it's legalistic to start nit-picking on stuff like that.  I just wonder how many people use an abbreviation like that and enver give one though to God whatsoever.

I have no prescription here, no firm stance.  The ancient Hebrews took it so seriously that they refused to even write the name of God (Yahweh) for fear of using it inappropriately (of course we haven't even addressed the issue of which name of God we should be most concerned about; if it's Yahweh, then nearly all of us are pretty safe).  I think that's extreme, but I wonder if it's not closer to the right thing than we currently are.  I don't know.  I guess I'm just interested in sparking thought and contemplation in anyone who reads this.  Why?  Because I think it's important.  Even if we don't really think it is, if our cynicism or anger over legalistic rules still abounds, if we don't see what the big deal is and wonder whether or not it really matters, I can't help but realize one of the big ten is devoted to the issue, which I believe means that it at least matters to Him.

So, yes, I'm for real.