“OMG” — and Other Ways Christians Take God’s Name in Vain

Exodus 20:7

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

I briefly mentioned, in yesterday’s post, one way in which Christians take the Lord’s name in vain.  Unfortunately, too many of us have become very casual about this commandment, and I thought I’d take the time to mention some things we should consider.

Taking God’s Name in Vain

“Vain” means useless, or empty.  This verse, one of the Ten Commandments, tells us to not use God’s name in an empty or useless way.  God is to be respected as high and holy.  This isn’t optional.

 “OMG”

I read an article a couple of weeks ago (unfortunately, I forgot to note who gave me the link) which I thought was excellent.  I know nothing about the author, but her article (What does the Bible say about OMG?) is excellent.  Too many Christians, in moments of excitement, dismay, etc., say, “Oh my God,” — and it isn’t a prayer.  Others, more “refined,” say, “Oh my gosh,” which is effectively the same watered down a little bit.  When we do this, we are saying God’s name without any real meaning to it — using it vainly.

Text-speak and Internet usage have made this far worse.  Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter too often encourage people to speak quickly and mindlessly, and it is so very easy to type in “OMG” without even thinking about it.  Is that consistent with reverence for our God?  If you see a Christian doing this, perhaps you could send a private note asking him to stop.  He’s probably not even thought about it.

No one ever says, “Oh my Satan,” or a watered-down “Oh my Santa.”  Or, for that matter, “Oh my spaghetti” or “Oh my desk.”  Why do unbelievers always use “Oh my God”?  We know why — the god of this world is influencing them to use words that diminish reverence for the Almighty God.  Why should Christians even mimic that with a watered-down “Oh my gosh”?

“In Jesus’ Name, Amen”

I am NOT saying people should not pray in Jesus’ name.  He told us to.  I wrote about this briefly yesterday (Proverbs 10:24).  The point of praying in Jesus’ name is to pray as Jesus’ representative, and that means praying as He would have us pray.  It is not a magic spell to make our wish list come true, or vain repetition stuck at the end of our prayers.

It is intended to cause us to think about whether we are praying for things that we can and should appropriately ask in His name.  It is to remind us of the glorious privilege given to us as His servants.

“I’ll Pray For You”

If you say you are going to pray for someone, you speak as a Christian who can speak directly to God.  You are promising to speak to Him.  If you don’t do it when you said you would, you took God’s name in vain.  You talked about communication with Him in an empty and meaningless way.

It is not wrong to tell people we will pray for them.  But if we say it, we must mean it and do it.  I have a friend who is careful about this.  I don’t think I have ever heard him say, “I’ll pray for you.”  He does say, “I just prayed for you,” or, “Let’s pray about this right now.”  Something to consider….

Un-Christian Behaviour

About a week ago, News for Christians linked to Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain.  It is worth reading.  The writer appropriately refers to Romans 2:24:

For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.

If you are called a “Christian”, you are called a follower of Christ.  You carry His name.  If your behaviour gives sinners excuses to blaspheme, you are taking His name in vain.  Those who bear His name must live by it.

T-Shirts, Bumper Stickers, Cute Sayings

I’m not going to get specific here, because those who want to nitpick can nitpick.  Rather, a suggestion:  read Isaiah 6, and see how Isaiah responded to his vision of the Almighty.  Look at Revelation 1, and see John’s response when he saw the Lord of glory.  Remember that even in these visions, not all of God’s glory and majesty was fully revealed, or these men would have died.  And ask yourself, does my bumper sticker, my t-shirt, my cute expression that I like to use, all these ways in which I speak of the Lord, do they really fit with who He is?

When I stand before Him (or rather, when I fall on my face before Him) will I be glad I used that bumper sticker and wore that t-shirt, or will I be horribly ashamed?  Am I altogether too casual and cutesy in how I speak of Him?

“God Told Me”

Many times, we hear Christians say that “God told me” to do something.  Unless it is written in God’s Word, God doesn’t tell me to believe your statement (even if you do believe it).  If there is no reason I should believe that God told you, there is no reason to say it.  The Bible doesn’t tell us to go around saying “God told me.”

If you make a statement the Bible didn’t tell you to make, and I should examine what you say (rather than take your word for it), then to claim God’s authority is to claim it vainly.  “God told me” in any context other than what the Scriptures have said is taking God’s name in vain — even if you personally believe He did tell you.  God doesn’t tell others to believe you when you say it, so it is an empty claim.  You shouldn’t say it.

“God Gave me Peace”

It’s amazing how many times God “gives peace” to people who are doing the exact opposite of what He said in Scripture.  Just because you feel comfortable about your decision doesn’t mean God has given you peace.  Perhaps all it means is that you’ve started to have better sleeping and eating habits so you physically feel better.  Perhaps it means you’ve seared your conscience so badly that it isn’t functioning anymore.

God does give peace, the Scriptures say so.  But the Scriptures never say we should make decisions by checking our “peace-meter” to see if it is measuring high enough.  “Peace-meters” are often inaccurate — God’s Word is not.  Many times, when people say “God gave me peace,” they are merely taking God’s name in vain, speaking it meaninglessly, claiming some kind of God-authority for decisions that He manifestly does not approve.

I am sure there are other ways in which we do not honour our Lord’s name as we should.  We, as Christians, need to take God’s holiness seriously, and give Him due reverence.  We should encourage and help one another to be alert to failings in this area, so that we can speak as He would have us speak.

Somewhat related later post:  Why is “Jesus Christ” used as “Blasphemous Profanity”?

And:  “God Told Me to Preach This”???

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Daily Christianity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to “OMG” — and Other Ways Christians Take God’s Name in Vain

  1. Chris says:

    “If you see a Christian doing this, perhaps you could send a private note asking him to stop. He’s probably not even thought about it.”

    Many years ago, a dear Christian woman pointed this out to me. I was a believer. I would use the word “Gosh”. It sounded so harmless. I was completely oblivious to the offense I caused, or the true nature of this and many other euphemisms. I am so thankful that she was willing to speak out. Speaking out is not always pleasant, but it is an act of love – both to the Lord, and to our Christian neighbor.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Chris. The Lord is very gracious, even when we don’t err in ignorance, but especially when we do. But the goal of the Christian life is to draw nearer and nearer to what He wants us to be — and that means refining our words as well. And we do well to help each other in this, because we live in a world that works constantly to give us blind spots.

  2. Leslie A says:

    Thank you so much for referencing my blog post “What does the Bible say about OMG”. I am committed to helping Christians live beyond the status quo and to start thinking about their choices. Thanks so much for helping me get a broader audience.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Leslie. It was a well-written post on an important topic. As you can probably tell from my blog title, I want to encourage Christians to think Biblically in all areas. Blessings to you.

  3. Chip Van Emmerik says:

    Excellent post Jon. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  4. Pingback: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord, Thy God, in Vain. « Life of a Sinner

  5. sueliz1 says:

    Great post. I have been horribly guilty of this in the past. I respect the Jewish practice of writing G-d, as to respect His name. I don’t do it, while writing but have thought about it.
    I am still guilty of OM ‘gosh’ and never thought of it as a watered down version.
    Some good food for thought.
    Thanks.
    Sue

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Sue. If we go by the letter of the law, I’m not sure “gosh” is absolutely forbidden, but I don’t believe it fits the spirit of reverence that God calls us to have.

      As far as the Jewish tradition goes, I do not think it is good. In Bethlehem, God became man, Immanuel, God with us. Though God is immensely above us, He also came near, breaking down the barriers, becoming the Mediator as well as the Master.

      I would also add Gen. 4:26, I Kings 8:24, I Chron. 16:8, many other passages, and most notably Zechariah 13:9. God wants us, as His children, to speak His name with reverence, not fail to speak it. To not speak it rejects much of the significance of the Incarnation.

  6. sueliz1 says:

    I affirm what you said, but I don’t think it’s “bad” Jewish tradition. I suppose it can get rather scrupulous, but anywhere you write down His name, the name can be thrown in the trash or somehow disrespected, and I think this is where the tradition came from, not that He was far away or not Immanuel. I may be wrong. Jews also believe His name is the equivalent of the entire Jewish alphabet said at one time (all the letters) which is humanly impossible, hence another reason not to “spell” it on paper. I know of Messianic Jews that still write G-d.
    I just read that in Rabbinic Judaism only the high priest can say His name in the Temple during Yom Kippur. Interesting.
    I wasn’t thinking of not “saying” it, just not writing it. We are to confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and pray in His name always.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      The tradition is very old. I’ve heard more than one source of it. The Scriptures write out His name. In the Old Testament, of course, the vowel points were a later addition, so Jehovah (or Yahweh, whichever you think is best), Elohim, Adonai, etc, were written out as fully as any other word. In the NT, theos, kyrios, etc, were all written out fully.

      It’s certainly not negative in the sense of a tradition that is directly contrary to Scripture. It doesn’t fit the pattern of Scripture, though. I wasn’t meaning to suggest that it is a tradition against the Incarnation, but rather that it just doesn’t fit with the overall tone of Scripture, as exemplified by the Incarnation, of how much God wants to have close and loving fellowship with us. He uses the illustration of a marriage — ask your husband, when you write his name, does he want you to leave out the vowels? :)

      To me, it just doesn’t fit. But I don’t suppose I’d criticise a believer who did it, I’d just think they are making a mistake. Blessings to you.

  7. This is a good post. If you had a “Like” button…. ;) I appreciate this. I may avoid using euphemisms, but I know I fall short in other areas.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thank you for the kind words. The more we think about God’s holiness, the more we become aware of ways in which we all fall short. You’ve never “arrived” when it comes to following the Lord — there is always more to learn, always more to change.

  8. Pingback: Around the Web–3.30.12 » Proclaim & Defend

  9. Pingback: A Tad bit More on: “God Told Me” and “I Have Peace About This” « theolog shmeolog

  10. Jon: While I agree with the clear biblical teaching regarding reverence to our Lord’s name. I am not so sure that you can make broad statements such as what appears above to all who use the statements mentioned above. I think that requires knowledge of intent and I think the only one who has that is the Lord. I understand your misgivings of people using them as “chritainese” and agree. We need to mean what we say and in particular the phrase “I will pray for you” I agree!! If you are going to do it then do it right now!! No time better than the present.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Kelly. I appreciate the comment.

      I don’t know people’s intent at all. “If you see a Christian doing this, perhaps you could send a private note asking him to stop. He’s probably not even thought about it.” My purpose was to challenge people to think about what we often unintentionally do. “OMG” puts in readers’ minds a vain use of our Lord’s name, whether that was our intent or not.

      If a Christian intentionally takes God’s name in vain, something is really, really wrong. But your comment lets me reiterate that this isn’t about intent. If someone says “God told me,” he probably hasn’t thought about it being a claim we shouldn’t make. And so on. There are things we should drop from our language / behaviour whether we were saying / doing them with bad intent or not. We all need to be more Christ-like.

      This is NOT a “beating people up for what they are doing” post. This is a “let’s help each other think about our words” post. Thus my final paragraph — but if that wasn’t clear enough, I am really glad for your comment, because it lets me emphasise that purpose. If there is something specific that gave the impression I think I know motives / intent, I would like to know so I can hopefully avoid giving that impression in future.

  11. Earl says:

    Note by Jon: I have removed the links from this comment, and the name, because I do not want to give publicity to a false teacher. I let it through moderation for a reason which I will explain in reply.
    ***

    Good day

    May you know now the real name of God in the Bible as revealed by (…) in the website :

    And also during this time of great disaster and suffering. Our religious pastors and priests advise us to call on the name of Jesus for protection and salvation. But as we call on Jesus’ name, the more the calamities and conflicts are getting worse and more people are dying and suffering.

    Why does this happen?

    In the Bible we can read that before Jesus died, he cried out :
    … “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Matt.27:46 NKJV
    Why did Jesus cry out he was forsaken by God? If God forsook Jesus, how much more us who only call on Jesus?

    Are we suffering because we are making God angry by calling on a false god in the name of Jesus whom He has forsaken and not on His TRUE NAME and disobeying His commandments?

    It’s time we discover who Jesus in the Bible really is and learn God’s true decree about Jesus — was he forsaken by God to be punished by the rod of men for our sins OR for his OWN iniquity?

    I would like to share with you a link about a Bible exposition by my teacher, (…). May you read it with an open mind.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Some marks of a false teacher:
      1. Special knowledge that everyone else has been missing (in this case, the name of God).
      2. Denial that Jesus is God, or suggesting that there is disharmony in some way between the Father and Son.
      3. Suggesting that maybe Jesus wasn’t sinless.
      4. We need a specially enlightened teacher to teach us. (This is cultic. II John 2:27 refutes it).

      I let this comment stand because this kind of “special knowledge, if only people knew” teaching is a common mark of a false teacher, and I wanted to let my readers see it so they can be alert to it. It appeals to our intellectual pride, that WE KNOW the answers, I AM THE ONE that has discovered the truth. It is false.

  12. Melinda says:

    I am late in stumbling upon this post, but I also know it is due to God’s perfect timing. We just recently moved from Texas, where it isn’t hard to find a fellow Christian, to the mountains of Colorado, where it didn’t take us long to realize we are going to be scrutinized for what we believe. In the three months we’ve been here, I have heard people of all ages say “Oh my God” as flippantly as they say “see you later”. It led me to Google how we, as Christians, are to respond to this, and I was thankful to land on your post, as it enlightened me in other ways, as well. Keep writing!

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Melinda. This post still has a lot of people stumble upon it. (I suppose that is true spiritually as well.) I’m glad you found it beneficial.

      Of course, we don’t really expect those who aren’t Christians to act and speak as if they are. The troubling thing is that we Christians can be so easily drawn into saying and doing similar things, often without even thinking about it. I’m glad our God is gracious!

      May the Lord bless your service for Him in whatever path He takes you.

  13. cherie says:

    Its how you use His name Jesus that matters!

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, cherie. Of course the name “Jesus” matters, but many people who never misuse that name still dishonour the Lord. The point of this post was to encourage believers to think about many of the different ways we don’t give Him the honour and respect we should, and make those changes. It isn’t enough to just avoid swearing.

      “Jesus” means “Jehovah saves”, by the way. When we respect the name “Jesus” we also respect the name “Jehovah”.

  14. David says:

    Hi Jon,
    I appreciate your stand on honoring God’s name.
    Looks like you’re in the company of a lot of reformed thinkers on this issue. (Our pastor recently had a sermon on this and nailed us if we weren’t living 100% godly full-out lives for Him. See http://www.gracevalley.org/sermon_trans/2013/Glorifying_Gods_Name.html for the text)

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, David, great to hear from you!

      Our lives, our words, what we say and do intentionally, what we say and do unthinkingly, these all reflect how much we honour the Lord in our hearts, and teach us of our need to honour Him more.

      I’ve appreciated much that Pastor Mathew has written in the past. I’ll try to get to this soon.

  15. Carol says:

    I live in a small rural community and have been involved for years in a little bible study which has, for a couple of years now, been led by the pastor of the church. (Not the church I attend) This pastor has been more and more often using the OMG expression and it has really bothered me. Wanting to understand how to best confront her on it is what brought me to this site. I’m very grateful for the insiteful comments from everyone.
    What I am wondering about now is that often times we may feel a need to express some sort of expletive…an “Oh my!”…or “Yikes”…etc. but not wanting to use irreverent language…Is there anything at all that is appropriate? Or does it come down to what our heart is really saying? Can’t we maybe become kind of legalistic about this on some levels? , yet I don’t want to be afraid to speak up at all for fear of maybe using His name in vain. In another article someone suggested that even the phrase “God Bless you” when someone sneezes could be taking his name in vain because we really say it with out much thought about it.
    I am no longer sure how to close this so I’ll just say thank you. This has all been diffinitely very thought provoking!

    g before now I might have said something like “Blessings to you” but now I’m not sure I shoudh even

    In

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Carol. You describe a serious lack of spiritual discernment and leadership, in more than one way, though I’ll just keep to this one issue in this post. In any event, you could always refer anyone to this post if you think it would help them think about what they are saying.

      On expletives, perhaps Jesus words in Matthew 5:37 help: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” As to your question about “what our heart is really saying,” this appears to say expletives generally “come of evil” — there is something behind them (in the heart) that isn’t good. I talked about wanting to be important and expletives in this post: http://mindrenewers.com/2012/11/29/why-is-jesus-christ-used-as-blasphemous-profanity/. An expletive wouldn’t have to have bad words to be driven by an attitude of pride. And we certainly don’t need to be using expletives to express anger, that’s going to end up being sinful, too.

      God does not want us to live in fear, but He does want us to train ourselves to speak in a way that shows respect for Him. I personally do not say “God bless you” when someone sneezes, because it is rarely meant or taken as a true spiritual statement. Even if >Imean< it if we are going to say it, rather than just using it as a habitual sign-off phrase which means nothing.

      I hope that helps a little bit! Keep reading your Bible and asking the Lord to make things very clear to you. That's a prayer He loves to answer.

  16. Dennis Laren Harden says:

    heres a list of term that i think is saying gods name in vain 1.good god 2.good good 3.good morning 4.good night 5.good golly 6.good love 7.good god 8.i swore to god 9.i swear to god 10.i sworn to god 11.gee 12.oh gee 13.good afternoon 14.good evening 15.good day 16.geez louise 17.gee wiz / gee whiz / gee wizz /gee whizz 18.gosh darn-it 19.got dang-it 20.oh my freaking gosh 21.oh my freaking god 22.oh my freaking golly 23.oh my freaking golly ned 24.gee willikers 25.gee wilikers 26.oh my golly 27.oh my god 28.oh my gosh 29.oh my goodness gracious 30.oh my goodness 31.oh my gracious 32.oh land 33.oh my land 34.my land 35.oh lo! 36.oh my lo! 37.my lo! 38.oh laws 39.oh my laws 40.my.laws 41.my goddess 42.oh my goddess 43.oh goddess 44.oh lanta 45.oh my lanta 46.my lanta 47.oh my jimminy cricket 48.jeeper creeper 49.jeepers creepers 50.jiminny cricket 51.jimminy crickets 52.oh jiminny cricket 53.my jimminy cricket

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Well, Dennis, I can’t say I want to spend a lot of time on listing things like that, and I’d disagree with some of them. Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening are a way of telling someone you hope they will have a good morning or good day, etc.

      In general, however, we can do without the kind of things you’ve listed. Jesus said to let our yea be yea and our nay be nay. If you read my follow-up post on why “Jesus Christ” is used as profanity, I think the same attitudes that lead people to use His name blasphemously lie beneath a lot of the expressions you’ve listed. We don’t need that kind of thing.

  17. sarah says:

    i think that even saying o my gosh is also taking God’s name in vain
    no matter how you say it if what you are thinking is taking His name in vain you should not say it

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Sarah. Thank you for the comment. As I said above, saying “o my gosh” is a little more refined, but it is essentially the same thing.

      Certainly, if a person’s thoughts are taking God’s name in vain, they shouldn’t say it, however they say it. I agree entirely.

      But even if a person isn’t really thinking that way, and is just speaking casually and saying these things without thinking about it, it still isn’t reverential, is it? That’s why I said if you hear a believer saying such things, it’s a good idea to kindly point out to them that it really isn’t honouring God as they should. If their heart is towards God, they’ll appreciate it.

  18. Danny Doyle says:

    You do realize that the word “God” is an Old English word rooted in Indo-European language. The word God is closely related to the Germanic word gad (pronounced gohdt, meaning good), not YHWH (which is the tetragrammaton for the word Yahew). Your article is pointless if you don’t even understand the origin of the word. The most common and accepted form for the word God in the in the Middle East was El-ah (Aramaic) and El-ohim (Hebrew). So when a “Christian” uses the word “God”, they are not taking the Lord’s name in vain because that isn’t even the correct word anyway.

    Sources:
    1. http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/20240/what-word-did-jesus-use-for-god-in-aramaic
    2. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06608x.htm
    3. http://www.bibleanswerstand.org/God.htm

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Danny. “God” is the word used to translate the Hebrew El or Elohim. It is a name used to represent the One we worship, and is the most commonly used name for Him in the English language. As such, we should not treat it lightly (take it in vain).

      When Christians do the things I’ve described, they are not showing reverence to Jehovah-God.

      Whichever language a person speaks, they should show reverence to the words used to designate the Almighty in their own language. He is not One to trifle with or disrespect.

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