Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way. (Exodus 20:7, Common English Bible)
The other day I was at Taco Bell ordering lunch. After I ordered and paid, the woman behind the counter told me to have a blessed day and “Jesus loves you.” I was kind of surprised. I have been told by many to have a blessed day. But I think this was the first time I was told by a clerk, “Jesus loves you.” Not even in a Christian bookstore have I been told that “Jesus loves me.” But here, in the tiny Taco Bell, Jesus loves me.
When we think of the commandment of “do not take God’s name in vain,” we often think of swearing or profanity. To use the Lord’s name in vain is to use God’s name as a curse. While there is truth to this understanding, there is so much more to this commandment. God’s name is a powerful thing, and it should not be taken for granted, but held with the most respect.
God tells the Israelites that he spares them from the plagues, “to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). When Jesus gives the Great Commission, he tells the disciples to baptize in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The name of God points to the Kingdom. It is disrespectful to use God’s name in a way that does not point to God’s kingdom.
Seminaries in the south became experts as theologically reasoning why enslaving African-Americans was not only okay, but ordained by God. In the name of God, they enslaved other human people. During the Civil Rights era, church going people bombed churches and houses, burned crosses, and killed other human beings in the name of God.
The purpose of the commandment is to protect the holy and divine name of God from being used to distract others from said holiness. When we use God’s name to promote hatred towards others, we are using God’s name in vain. When we use God’s name to put down others and make them “less holy,” we become less than holy as we misuse God’s name. When we judge others and condemn them to an eternity without God, we disrespect the name of God and God’s kingdom.
God is so much bigger than anything we can say or do, decide or plan. And God’s name is meant for praise and adoration. God’s name is meant to witness to God’s kingdom. Instead, perhaps, we can be more like the Taco Bell clerk who tells us, “Jesus loves you.”