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Very Bad Words

Moses Breaking the Tablets of The Law by Gustave Dore
Moses Breaking the Tablets of The Law by Gustave Dore

When I was a teenager I once asked my grandmother if saying G**D*** was really all that bad. My simple minded reasoning went something like this: Saying G**D*** is not bad because you’re not damning God. You’re really only telling him to damn someone or something. My grandmother replied, Don’t tell God what to do! Of course, she was right. That conversation has always stuck with me. For one thing, people should never wish damnation on anyone. Wishing damnation on another wasn’t the worst of it. Having the audacity to think that it’s okay to actually dictate commands to God was the worst of the worst. This makes him out to be some sort of genie or henchman. In reality, when we take The Lord’s name in vain this is exactly what’s going on. Blasphemy is attempting to belittle God.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain actually has more to do with sorcery than with simply saying something socially offensive. It all stems from pagan word-magic with the most potent form being name-magic. What’s believed is that by invoking the name of supernatural entities the conjuror can compel them to do his bidding. While sorcery in itself is forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:9-13), what’s worse that the blasphemer is in essence using the name of God as a magic word. In my youth when I had surmised that swearing was telling God to damn others, I didn’t realize how right I was. A common use for name-magic by pagan religions was for supernatural entities to work against one’s enemies. If God is an entity that can be compelled to do a man’s bidding then he’s not God. This whole idea is pagan to the core. It’s the absurd idea that the creator is to submit to the creation by the uttering of mere words. It seeks to make man as God.

One might object that they don’t believe in sorcery or the supernatural. Given the decline of the belief in religion today, it’s easy to disregard any notions of paganism or sorcery. Blasphemy may be looked at as spiritually harmless or inappropriate at worse. This is dangerous thinking. Scripture uses the word vain. Vanity is a term that has many meanings in scripture. Among these are acting without profit, misuse, or acting in a sinful manner. When the blasphemer commits the sin while disregarding the spiritual implications he is still invoking the name of God in the most trivial way. Casual blasphemy such as this isn’t casual at all as it is disrespectful to God. In this way it is no different than the pagan who believes in the efficacy of invoking the Lord’s name for name-magic. Both are a grave display of disrespect for The Lord God Almighty. The Lord is God, not us. To imply otherwise is to call him a liar. So don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. Obey this third commandment. (Deuteronomy 5:11)

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Joshua Ambrose

Joshua Ambrose is a restless disciple of Christ and sometimes whimsical mischief-maker. When not writing about theology, he writes about philosophy, history, economics, finance and basically anything that involves being a good neighbor in a way that honors his Lord.

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