Sunday, February 04, 2007

Take the name of the Lord in vain? What's that?

The editors of the New International Version (NIV) render the third commandment "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God...," which, though a little less obscure than "take... in vain", leaves unanswered the question, "What exactly is being prohibited here?"

As a little boy, I may have asked my mother about this -- I'm not sure -- but I somehow got the idea that this commandment was about cussing. Which it is, sort of, but only peripherally; this Third Commandment (out of ten!) is, according to what I heard a few years ago, really about something far more serious. Come to think of it, this happens a fair amount in Israel's history, and the Lord seems pretty seriously aggrieved when it happens.

Here's what it means to misuse the Lord's name, or to take the name of the Lord in vain: it means to attach the name of the Lord to something that he's not behind. So if I have a dream -- a project that I'm excited about or whatever -- then I can say "I have a project I'm excited about" or "I have a dream..." and there's no problem. But if I say "The Lord told me to do this project" then I'm probably taking the name of the Lord in vain -- and if I know I'm just making it up then I am certainly taking his name in vain, misusing the name of the Lord.

So when false prophets say, "Thus says the Lord," and the Lord has not said that, they're misusing the name of the Lord; they are attaching his name to an empty thing, a vain thing.

And since some of my dreams or wishes are pretty empty, pretty vain, there's certainly a temptation to dress 'em up and make them seem more important by saying they're God's projects or plans rather than mine. Jonestown is a horrible example of what can happen when God's name is stuck onto somebody's project; so is 9-11.

So I guess the thing is to be careful: if I think the Lord is doing something, then it may be OK to say that I think the Lord is doing something. But if I want something to happen a certain way, and if I say the Lord does too, then I'd better be pretty certain that I'm not just making it all up. And if somebody else says the Lord wants to do something, then it's wise to see if that person is just putting God's name on his own project, versus discerning what the Lord is doing on His own initiative.

No comments: