“God’s last name is not dammit.”
The words were printed in large block letters across a medium sized oval sticker affixed to my tackle box. It was a very ‘loud’ message amidst the other smaller decals and logos plastered all over the box. I wasn’t a fisherman, but as a middle-schooler my tackle box doubled as a ‘tool box’ of tools and parts for the R/C car I had built.
I wasn’t a big cusser in middle school, so I really had the command about not taking God’s name in vain covered.
Of course, there was that one time in 6th Grade that I let a word slip out at the water fountain. I’ll never forget being sent to the principals office and being made to call my mom at work and tell her what I said.
But other than that, my language was pretty squeaky-clean then. (Not that it isn’t now, but somewhere in the middle was a little bumpy!)
So as a youngster attempting to live out my Christian faith, on my “10 Commandment Check List”, I had the third command nailed!
If I heard GD in a movie, I turned it off. If a friend said GD, I quickly corrected them. If someone said “Good Lord” in response to something that happened, I quickly affirmed that indeed our Lord was good.
In hindsight, I am thankful that I developed a deep reverence for God’s name. I’m doing my best to instill that same reverence in our children.
Yet taking God’s name in vain goes so much deeper than just using a swear word here or there.
Any time that we use God’s name in a way that is dishonoring to Him, or to His character, we are using it in vain.
Throughout history God’s name has been used to justify decisions and sway results. It has been used to proclaim ‘prosperity’ and to gain wealth. It has leveraged relationships and waged wars. God’s name has been attached to a lot of movements and purposes.
It is a name that has been used a lot of ways by a lot of people.
I feel one of the most innocent, yet prevalent ways we take God’s name in vain is over-attribution.
In triumph and in tragedy, as Christians, we are all very quick to recognize God as the author.
Consider this scenario with me:
You are vying for a promotion at your job and you are up against three co-workers who are also Christians. As the jockeying comes to a climax you are the winner. Because of your faith, you are quick to recognize God and thank Him for giving you the promotion. You attribute it as God’s favor and blessing.
What does that speak to the other Christians who were also trying for the position? Were they not performing good enough for God? Were they not within the full favor and blessing of God?
What does that speak to other believers in your circle who struggle day in and day out just to survive on a minimum wage? That God doesn’t love them as much as you?
How about this one:
There is a car accident and four people are in the car; yet only one survives. We quickly attribute the the survivor to God. We say God still has a plan for them, or God wasn’t done with them yet. What does that speak to the families of the three who didn’t survive? Their loved one wasn’t as valuable to God as the survivor? They were expendable and not needed anymore?
How about that front row parking spot you were blessed with?
Did God not love the single mother of three who had to park at the back of the lot, guiding her kids through a busy lot, enough to give her the front row spot?
We flippantly attach God’s name to everything that happens in our world.
I am not saying that God never chooses to act and interact in these ways. To make that type of a claim would be just as dishonoring.
What I am saying is that we are not God. We must be very careful to give God credit for things He may not want credit for.
The implications of attributing God to each and every thing that happens are deep, and I’m afraid of what we are teaching those around us about the supposed character of God through these attributions.
We are daily painting inaccurate pictures of God to those around us. We are taking His name in vain by attaching it to things He may not have attached it to. It is a scary brand of Christianity that makes God’s Kingdom about us; and not what He said it was about.
I think I know what is running through your mind at this moment, because it is the same passage of scripture that I wrestle with when I consider this topic.
“always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20 NIV
And then there is this one…
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV
These two passages are easy to cling too when good things are happening, but how do I thank God for evil? How do I thank God for sin? How do I thank God for the things He hates?
If I take Ephesians 5:20 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19 as isolated, I have no choice but to give thanks for those things too; as they are a part of ‘everything’.
In actuality, we can isolate verses in scripture to represent any cause or belief we want.
Thankfully in scripture we have context as well. Immediate, historical and overall context help us illuminate what God is really speaking to us through scripture.
I think if you journey through these questions as I did, you will find that within the overall narrative of God’s Word that we can give thanks in everything.
I can give thanks amidst tragedy, sin and brokenness just as I can amidst joy, promotion and celebration because of God’s promises and the hope of Heaven.
In life, we want the security of knowing that everything is ordered and in control. We want the security of knowing that each and every thing that happens, good and bad, was authored by God, for His purposes.
With as much insecurity as it brings, we don’t want to believe that some things just happen. As a result of sin and brokenness, bad things happen. As a result of free will, evil exists. As a result of hard work and effort. Good things happen. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t present and interacting with His creation; it just means that not everything that happens is from God.
We can give thanks because we know that regardless of what does happen God’s promises are with us. His promises are true. His Kingdom is real.
But thankfulness does not necessarily equal attribution.
Sometimes things happen in our life because God divinely sets it into motion and sometimes things happen because, well, they just happen.
We are not God, so we cannot readily differentiate between the two. Yet we can remain thankful in all things at attest to His true character amidst all circumstances.