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The third Commandment:

You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in falsehood or without purpose. Deuteronomy 5:11

So what does “in vain” mean? The Hebrew word definition is “empty” or as we can see from the verse above “without purpose” or “falsely”.

The first thing that comes to the Western mind is the vulgar phrase “God damn it”. It is easy for a Christian to hate this phrase (and I do).  But as mature adult Christians, we must dig deeper into what the Commandment means to understand why God had that prohibition in third place.

Firstly, this sleight of hand must be dismissed. The Lord’s name is not “God”, but Yahweh or “I Am” (Exodus 3:14).   It is doubtful if Christians would think “Yahweh damn it” is profanity or empty.  Still, most Christians use the word “God” as a short-cut way of saying the word “Yahweh”. So, let’s look deeper.

Secondly, the word “damn” means to curse. The Bible has multiple instances of God cursing nations and instructing the Israelites to destroy them.

Obviously, the phrase when used as profanity is “in vain” and “empty” and should be avoided. There is another reason it is bad, which is closer to the real reason the Commandment was given.  When one says “God damn it”, he is putting himself in front of God.  He is telling the Creator of all things to curse something, as if that person was greater than God.  The SAME thing is true when one says “God bless you”.  It is as if a person has the ability to give God an instruction when they don’t … it’s a falsehood.

The correct way to use this phrase is to change it from a demand to a request … “May God bless you.” (Ruth 1:8)

Before addressing OMG, the real reason God gave the third commandment must be understood. When Moses received God’s Commandments the people were very superstitious, especially the surrounding nations.  Their religion was polytheistic.  That means they had many, many gods.  The various gods were thought to control weather, crops, sensuality, and the list goes on and on.

The problem was … those were not gods at all. Priests were selected to worship those non-gods.  They would enter the temples or shrines, conduct a ceremony, and then instruct the people what their gods had told them.  Thus, their “gods” dictated the people’s behavior through the words of the priest.  Those clerics made- up what their gods were supposed to have said out of nothing … emptiness.  The understanding was the priests were issuing instructions and directions in the name of whatever god they happened to be representing.

Our God gave the third Commandment to prevent the Israelites from “making-up” something and then saying God told them it was true. God did not want His character smeared with false things He didn’t say, but more importantly, He wanted the people to know that when He really did provide guidance, it truly was from Him.

Now, consider the use of exclamations such as “Oh My God”, “gosh”, “jeezes”, etc. If I told you those phrases don’t bother God, I would be using His name in vain, because He has not told me.  I will inform you, I understand my using them doesn’t bother Him … we have communicated.

So, the answer as to whether Christians should use them is a very personal one; between you and God.

“… For whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23).

In conclusion, I believe God is less bothered by trivial utterances and even profanity than He is when people say to someone just experiencing a tragedy:

“This is part of God’s plan.”

“It was God’s will.”

No one knows God’s plan or will, so THIS is using God’s name in vain.