Recently, at my “9 to 5” desk job, I was relocated to a new cubicle. Upon following the direction of a note to find my new desk, there waiting for me, just as organized as I’d had them, were all my papers & personal effects. I was thankful for the new space! It was brighter and roomier… a definite improvement!
…Until shortly after settling in, I heard across the way, “God damnit.” A bit aggravated but undeterred, I continued working. Then I heard again, “Jesus Christ!” And third time, accompanying a sigh, “Oh my God.”
I thought to myself, ‘Could this person really be taking God’s name in vain as loudly and frequently as I think I’m hearing? Can I even figure out who it is among the mass of people sitting on the other side of my cubicle wall? And… if I could figure out the person making these exclamations, what’s he going to say when new-girl pops around the corner to ask him to cut it out? Do I even have the guts to ask?’
The next day, I did muster the guts. I rounded the corner, hoped I’d identified the right guy, and in a whisper I let him know I was a Christian and that I’d like to request the favor of him not taking the Lord’s name in vain. He was very apologetic, saying he’d hardly noticed himself doing it.
Turns out, it wasn’t as hard as I’d made it out to be! (I had even nervously searched Catholic Answers forums to find ways others chose to confront offenders of the 3rd commandment!) Even again, later that day, when another coworker sighed a “Jesus” to me in response to a work assignment, I had the gusto to make the same request of her!
But afterward, I wondered whether I should really be appealing for a “favor”? I also questioned my explicit use of the words “in vain.” What did that even mean? Did my coworkers even understand what I meant?
Certainly, I’m not the only one who questions what to do – or the right thing to say – when someone uses God’s name such ways.
In my search for ways to call out such blasphemy– because it’s no-doubt something that draws us out of our comfort zone – I read suggestions that we can just let “God damnit” slide, as it could be used fairly as an invocation of God to damn something bad. I read arguments that “Oh my God” wasn’t actually taking God’s name in vain, since His true name is YHWH, and “God” could be any deity. Lots of people recommended responding “Amen!” to ‘Oh my God’s and ‘GD’s to startle the offenders in the hope of getting them to think. Worst of all, in my opinion, I read a remark that we need not bother monitoring or correcting the expressions because such blasphemies, upon escaping our lips, could remind us to pray about that which upsets us.
I think these are all pretty terrible recommendations.
It’s important to understand that to do something in vain means to do so without purpose, or to no avail. Without intent, an exasperated sigh or curse against God is done so in vain. When we say the name of God, we invoke His holy presence and we shouldn’t do so lightly.
We should make every effort to prevent ourselves and others from the casual use of God’s name. It should not be as a “favor” to avoid offending our Christian neighbor, but instead should be a reminder to dignify the name of Jesus at which every knee should bend. Responding to others with a lighthearted “Amen!” doesn’t require a potentially awkward conversation, but it’s a really inefficient way of helping anyone recognize the sacred nature of Christ.
God, Jesus, Christ, or Lord – next time you hear His name outside a pious context – don’t be afraid to speak up. Start with a simple prayer of reparation: “Blessed be His Holy Name.” And with polite kindness, point out that God is good and we should be careful not to underestimate the value of His Holy Name.