“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
- Exodus 20:7
When I first took over my platoon in the Army, I had never said any dirty words, ever. Okay, I had said ‘hell’ in reference to Bible study. My biggest curse word was ‘Dad Burn It’. One summer, I was painting my grandparents’ house and doing some minor repairs. There were two live-in care-givers that my parents had hired. To while their day, they were painting the inside while I was outside on the porch, painting and hammering in nails that had worked loose during high winds. When my Dad came to check on me at lunch time and bring me a sandwich, the care-giving couple said something about how my Dad didn’t look scorched around the edges. I was instructed to not say that in the future.
But back to the Army: After about a week, my platoon sergeant pulled me aside. He said that he respected my beliefs. He respected my convictions. “But, Sir, if you don’t through in a ‘hell’ or ‘damn’ every now and then, the city boys will never hear a word you are saying. You are not reaching them at all. The s#!t and “F” bombs can wait until they really screw up. The shock value goes a long way.”
Later that day, the platoon sergeant gave out unpleasant assignments to a squad that had some of my roughest city boys. They shook their heads and grumbled. I yelled, “That was an order, damn it!” He’d given the order to a crew of about eight guys, but there were over thirty that heard me yell. The hammering stopped. The sawing stopped. The mixing of mortar stopped. After the shock had died down for 3 or 4 uncomfortable seconds of silence on a busy construction site, the squad snapped to attention, saluted, and yelled, “Yes, Sir!” The work was done without any further grumbling.
Please, Lord, forgive me.
Bad words have passed my lips more than once. Mark Lowry, in his routine about breaking his leg, talks about the period between the shock and the eventual pain medication. He said words that he didn’t think he knew, but there they were as if they were old friends. Yes, Lord, we do screw up. Don’t we. But that isn’t the focus here. It is not a good idea to cuss. Using God’s name in conjunction with cursing is sin worthy of a third commandment violation. If you can’t find the right words and need to blow off steam, Tim Hawkins has a tremendously funny comedy bit about Christian Cuss Words. If you have to say something, choose among those or something similar.
No. This post is about what my platoon sergeant was trying to do for me. He was trying to establish ‘street cred’ for me. That term didn’t exist then, but the concept is as old as time. It was about that time that the platoon nicknamed me, Lt. Eskimo. When a new guy would show up to the platoon, one of the sergeants would refer to me as Lt. Eskimo. It didn’t hurt that I was a stickler for proper uniform. If the folks in DC said that we were still in summer uniform, you wouldn’t catch me wearing a field jacket. I even had my sleeves rolled up in weather well below freezing. I wouldn’t let anyone in the platoon see me react to the cold either. But when I heard about the nickname, I asked one of the sergeants. He said, ”You are the nicest officer that we’ve ever met. We gave you the nickname, Lt. Eskimo, and told the new guys that the nickname was because you had a cold, cold heart. It doesn’t take them more than a week or two to figure out how nice you are, but the fear keeps them in line for the first month. By then, they’ve developed good habits.”
The concept of the honor of a family name still exists, but there are fewer and fewer people that can claim the name and have it mean anything. There are too many Kennedys that have little or no familial connections to the assassinated president. The idea of ‘what have you done for me lately’ is more powerful than what your granddaddy did for the community. Yet, the duels of a couple of centuries ago were one-on-one combat to the death and in most cases for the sake of family honor.
Many may not know this, but a commissioned officer on active duty in the military cannot say anything against the president of the United States. It is an offense worthy of Court Martial. At least, it was when I served. For one construction season, I was the construction officer (in charge of support, not the field guy) for a big project in Germany. The standing president wanted to visit the construction site. We stopped work for two days to build a helipad and to do general clean up. Then on the third day, nearly 200 soldiers stood in formation for over four hours. The field officer then called me to say that the president didn’t show up. I called headquarters to inquire as to why. The colonel said something about a change in plans the previous day, as if someone had informed me. I started to say something along the lines of, “That lousy …” The colonel cut my off with a clearing of the throat and a gentle warning to go no further. I replied, “Sorry, Sir, but if the aide who could have let us know yesterday shows up, I have a cattle prod and I know where to stick it.” The colonel let out a hearty belly laugh and said that my response was acceptable and he’d pass the word along.
The point of this story is that commissioned officers swore allegiance to protect and serve. The president was given all due respect to his position, regardless of his character or wisdom. You could say that the POTUS was ‘Lord’ in relation to our position as protector and servant.
But what of the ‘name’ of God. Does God have ‘street cred’ today? God is the creator of the universe, but many people claiming to be Christians deny it. God is all powerful, but many people claiming to be Christians don’t claim that power, thinking that miracles were only done in Biblical times. God can break the rules of nature with miracles. What do you think a miracle is? Yet, I have heard preachers preach sermons on how God could never do true miracles. To them, the ‘miracles’ in the Bible are exaggerated stories told by uneducated people. God is all knowing, hearing, and seeing, but people treat His name as a triviality, a curse word used to show utter contempt. Yet, the contempt may be shown toward the other person, but those who misuse the various names of God are showing contempt for the supreme God of the universe.
It is impossible for us to have a relationship with God and disregard His name at the same time. When we do, it harms that relationship.
Should we watch our language? Absolutely. But if we truly believe in Jesus and we call Him ‘Lord’. Our thoughts, words, and deeds should reflect that level of respect as well. Maybe that is what is meant in the third commandment.
Each time we misuse the name of God, it is part of a bigger disease. Many people who claim to be Christians are guilty of creating a god that is small, insignificant and something that can be controlled. They don’t want the true God, because they would have to admit that at His name, every knee shall bow.