How a holy Name can be the vilest profanity

“Oh my G–!”

I hear this a lot, even in Christian circles, and I can’t help thinking about what God told the Israelites: “The LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His Name.” His Name is a holy thing, not to be trifled with or trivialized, not to be used as a common swear word.

I know a priest who often tells people, “I’d rather you use the F-word than say that.” He has a point. Certain four-letter words are “bad” only because our culture has set them apart as profanity. But to use a sacred Name as a casual profanity is far worse.

God is holy

God’s Name is so holy that Jews often refer to Him simply as “Hashem,” which means, “the Name.” They are hesitant to even pronounce the word at all, lest they misuse it. Some of them avoid writing out all three letters of His Name in English, using “G-d” instead.

I heard a story about a quiet, reserved Christian who was waiting for a trim in a barber shop where everyone was dropping God’s Name like bits of hair waiting to be swept into the garbage. The man cringed in silence for a while, but finally could stand it no longer. He stood up. “Praise the Lord Jesus Christ!” he shouted to the stunned group. Then he sat down.

I know someone else who told me that every time she hears someone take God’s name in vain, she prays the first part of the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.”

I have taken up this practice myself, as often as I remember to do so. I say a prayer for the person who has, perhaps unknowingly, denigrated a beautiful, fearsome, glorious Name. I try to counteract the blasphemy from another’s lips to restore proper order and honor what has been dishonored.

8 thoughts on “How a holy Name can be the vilest profanity

  1. I’m curious about this. “God” is not God’s name, but merely a title, one which is inadequate. There are personal names for God, YHWH, Jesus, Father, Son, Logos, etc., but God is merely a designation of divinity, which as Christians we affirm belongs by nature to only the Trinity, though by communication to all who participate in the Trinity by way of the Son. (2 Pt. 1:4). The comparison between the use of the word “God” and the Tetragrammaton does not seem sound. It would have to be a comparison between “God” and “Elohim” which was not in any way forbidden. Even the forbidding of actually speaking the name given to Moses seems to be late, given how often we see “Yah” and “Yahu” in ancient Hebrew names (such as Eliyahu, or Elijah).

    All of this is to simply ask if “Oh My G-d” is using God’s name at all. Saying the name of our Lord, or any other personal designation that has been given for the Father, Son, or Spirit seems to be. Even referring to precious elements of Christ in curses has been in the past considered great blasphemy (such as splood or zounds) because they make light of, or detract from the suffering of Christ. But ultimately I wonder if the word “God” is holier than any other word, for I don’t see how it can be identified with God’s name, since “god” can really refer to any figure assigned divinity.

    • Thanks for raising this question. I’ve seen some writers say “Oh my god,” using the small “g” to disconnect the word from God’s proper name. But I guess I’m still uncomfortable even with that. For one thing, no one can tell that you’re using the word this way when you say it in conversation. I also don’t think that people are referring to just any god when they say this, because “Oh my G-d!” is usually interchangeable with “Jesus Christ!” or other similar expressions, which never seem to mention Allah, Vishnu, or any other deities. But I suppose you could argue that that’s because we live in a predominately Judeo-Christian society.

      Maybe I have some Jewish sensibilities in thinking that with something like this, it’s necessary to “put a fence around the Torah,” and avoid coming anywhere close to a misuse of God’s name. But you raise a good point that the tradition of not speaking the Tetragrammaton is a bit inconsistent, since forms of it appear in Hebrew names. So thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Although any swearing makes me cringe, I agree with the priest! Many of our four-letter words are somewhat arbitrary since there are non-“swear” words that mean the same thing, but I think taking the Lord’s name in vain (whether it’s a big G or little g) is offensive in any usage.

    This reminds me of a story I heard once–Spencer W. Kimball, a former president of the Mormon church, was in the hospital, and an operating room attendant started swearing in frustration. Even though he was half-conscious, Pres. Kimball responded, “Please! That is my Lord whose names you revile.” After a brief silence, the attendant meekly replied, “I am sorry.” I wish I always had that courage! I think your practice of thinking “hallowed be thy name” to restore balance is perfect–sometimes we’re not in a position to correct others, but we can still honor His name.

    Also, I’m glad I found your blog. 🙂

    • Thanks for that story, Holly! I’m glad Pres. Kimball had the courage–and just the wherewithal, since he was half-conscious–to speak up. And I’m glad the attendant graciously received his rebuke.

      Thanks for reading my blog! I saw that you left a comment recently on Christie Purifoy’s blog, who is one of my friends, so I thought I’d check out your blog. 🙂

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