ĒYou shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.Ē
The violation of the Second commandment can be described as containing God in creation. The violation of the Third commandment can be described as manipulating God through words.
Whatís the big deal about a name, and why is God protective of his name? God shared his name to a people to signify that he has a commitment to them and that the people he shared his name with has a commitment to him. The commitment that God has with Israel and Israelís commitment to God is called a covenant.
People in the ancient world usually believe that to know the name of a god is to have control of that god. They use that godís name for magical purposes- incantations, spells; usually in witchcraft (see note 1). God forbids the use of his name for any purpose because God is not for humans to control. He is a free person to be honored and obeyed. Just like we should not ďuseĒ people to get what we want, we should not ďuseĒ Godís name to get what we want. What are some modern ways that this commandment is violated?
- Although most people do not recite spells, many people use set prayers like a spell. Whether the set prayers are done only once (praying the Our Father) or repetitively (rosary), it could become a violation of Godís command. The problem is not that it is set but that the people who pray are sometimes insincere. They donít take the words of the prayer to heart, but treat them like mere words. It may make them feel better, but if prayer is being used only to make someone feel better, then that person is violating the Third commandment. God is being used to fulfill a ďdutyĒ to pray.
- Another violation of the Third commandment is taking oaths insincerely (see note 2). An oath basically says ďI swear to God I will do it.Ē The wording may be different but the idea is using God to make people trust you. I donít mean to say that taking oaths is always wrong but you need to be careful about taking oaths. If you take an oath, you must take your oath seriously, making sure you do what you promised. If not, then you have just used Godís name to deceive and have disrespected Godís name.
- Even if you do what you swore to do, you may have to look at how often you swear to do something. You may be throwing Godís name around like it is a common word, thereby violating the Third commandment. Instead of Godís name evoking awe and reverence, Godís name will evoke indifference.
- Another violation of the Third commandment is blasphemy, which is showing lack of respect, and even contempt, for Godís name. One form of blasphemy is using Godís name in our jokes because it is using God for our amusement. Another form of blasphemy is to use Godís name as a word to express when you are frustrated, unless you sincerely want Godís help to deal with the frustration. If the utterance of Godís name happens too often, it is doubtful that it is really a cry for help. It would just be a common word you say when you are frustrated, to let off steam. Saying ďOh my God!Ē when frustrated seem innocent but nevertheless, Godís name ceases to evoke reverence and awe. Even worse, other swear words sometime accompany Godís name, making the use of Godís name even more blasphemous.
- Another violation of the Third commandment is to use God as an amulet. An amulet is an object you put on for protection (a necklace, a ring, etc.) in violation of the Second commandment. An example of a modern amulet is the cross. It is also a violation of the Third commandment because wearing a cross could be a form of insincere worship, and even worse, could be a form of deception (something to make people trust you more). Wearing the cross and religious T-shirts is a statement of worship- I belong to Christ, I trust God, etc. When the wearing of these statements of worship is not accompanied with sincerity, it is a violation of the Third commandment. Words or slogans can be a kind of amulet.
- A person invoking Godís name, within a prayer or not, with the belief that it grants anybody protection from harm is also using Godís name as an amulet. Think about the practice of saying God bless when somebody sneezes. How can we avoid violating the Third commandment?
In my reflection on the Second commandment, I talked about worship. That one hour on Sunday (usually) when you sing praise to God, listen to the preaching, pray, etc. should be an expression of your life attitude; God is the greatest, I need his guidance, I need his acceptance, I thank him for everything. If worship does not match life attitude, that is called hypocrisy and that displeases God (Hosea 6:6). The way to avoid violating the Third commandment is by sincere worship.
For the sake of explaining sincere worship, I will look at what is done in Sunday worship as an expression of devotion and trust towards God alone.
- To be devoted to God is to lift up God by expressing the conviction that God is greater than me and anything else in his creation, an attitude of praise.
- To be devoted to God is also to express that being at peace with him is more important than having anything else (money, wealth, fame, relationships, etc.). Not being at peace with him because of my disobedience causes him sorrow, an attitude of repentance.
- Trust towards God means acknowledging him alone for everything I have, an attitude of thankfulness.
- Trust also means bringing to God everything we need every single moment, an attitude of prayer.
- These attitudes of worship and prayer, easily remembered as the acronym ACTS, are an important part of living wisely. These attitudes show our acknowledgment of our connection to God, who also cares about our connection to others. Having this connection to God will help us respect Godís name. Talking about our connection to God, it is a good time to mention prayer.
Prayer can sincerely be an acknowledgement of dependence on God but at the same time disrespect towards Godís name. It could happen when a person loses sight of Godís personality. A person can start looking at God as an object to get what she desires. A person may think that with the ďproperĒ prayer she can get what she desires. That way of thinking is a violation of the Third commandment because the person is trying to control God. Prayer should be viewed as making a request to a person who could say no to us, or at least could answer in a way we do not expect.
You probably have experienced the pain of praying to God and not getting an answer, and even a no. Knowing that God says no could evoke feelings of anger, ďwhy does not God care no matter how much I cry and ask him for this?Ē I understand that it is hard to face Godís no. I encourage you to think again about Godís story to help you come to grips with your pain.
- First, in direct answer to your prayers or without asking, God has given you good experiences and good things. It seems that even though God says no, he does care about your enjoyment of life. Sometimes those good things are even better than you prayed for. Maybe you prayed that somebody would like you but instead of that person liking you, you find another person who becomes a very good friend.
- Second, in Godís big story, he does make things right. He keeps people accountable for their violence and redeems people from violence. God is presented as someone who will make everything new, a world where there is no more crying, sorrow, and pain; someone who will bring peace in his creation and inside of us (Revelation 21). God will grant us our deepest longings when he makes everything new.
Godís no is painful but remember that behind the God who says no is a God whose intentions for you are good. These good intentions are shown in God sending his son Jesus to die on the cross so that in the end of Godís big story, humanityís deepest longings may be met. May Jesusí sacrifice be your hope that despite all the pain in your life, there will be a good future for you.
Although God may not answer exactly as how we desire him to answer in this life, I believe that in the end, all of the deepest yearnings of Godís people will be fulfilled. This is the hope of Godís people.
- Why would people want to manipulate God?
- How would we deal with the habit of using Godís name for common use?
- How do we reconcile Godís no response to prayer with Godís good intentions?
- See Huffman, Herbert ďThe Fundamental Code Illustrated: the Third CommandmentĒ in ed., Brown, William P., The Ten Commandments: The Reciprocity of Faithfulness (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 205-212.
- Huffman, 207.