The Third Commandment is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
Evangelical Christian leaders cringe when President Obama omits the Judeo-Christian God and the name Jesus from his speeches. This was particularly noticeable at the Memorial Service in Tucson. In his defense, he did what a secularist that respects all religions should do. The president has declared publicly that the U.S.A. is no longer a Christian nation. And his speech in Tucson was a political opportunity that boosted his standing. Whenever he says, “God bless America,” he uses a universal term for all deities and not necessarily the Evangelic concept. In that sense, the President did not commit sacrilege. He did not use the name of his God in vain. Obviously, his Muslim background of respect and reverence for Allah are apparent.
I cannot say the same for us Evangelicals. We are quick to praise the Lord with our lips but not within our hearts because we too have strayed from the laws of God and replaced them with our teaching. Like in the days of Isaiah and during Jesus’ time, we too are no longer regarded as a nation under God (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8-9). This did not come about suddenly. It took Christian scholars time to cast God in a gentle fatherly form. We redefined the use of grace to cover our shortcomings. Jesus took care of our iniquities and removed the fear we should have for a just and holy God. We have taken for granted that God is on our side. Unfortunately, our behavior and life-styles say otherwise. Just to suggest that we are out of touch with and out of reach with God is offensive. Yet, Jesus reminded us that we could not be his people without his permission or even without his name (John 14:1-14).
We do not think that we are sacrilegious. We are not disrespectful nor do we desecrate holy things. Our problem is that we use the name of our God where and when we should not. We are vague about understanding what sacrilege means. We are careless and use God as part of our daily vocabulary. Far too many of us cannot say a sentence without invoking God or Jesus. Again, we are not unique. Jesus faced a similar attitude and that is why he told his disciples not to swear. “‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one'” (Matthew 5:33-37).
We suffer from the misconception that God is where we are. The words of Jesus, “Lo, I am with you always,” appear to support our belief. The Hebrews had a problem with our interpretation and so do other monotheistic religions. The God that used a burning bush to contact and commission Moses had no name and refused to give him one. He was plural (Elohim) and not singular (El). He wanted to be known simply as “The Lord” or Jehovah. The “I Am” was too holy to be uttered by man. Elohim was over all the gods; hence we have “El-Shaddai or El- Elyon” and so on. He had chosen the seed of Abraham to reveal his intentions to the world. He used Moses and Aaron, a shepherd’s staff, miracles, clouds, a fiery pillar, manna and angels to leave His mark in the world. God’s final disclosure came through Jesus the Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4). To Jesus, God was “a Spirit and Truth” and He himself was part of that Spirit. It is that Spirit of Jesus in union with the Father that we can invite to be with us. To mock that Spirit is unforgivable (Matthew 12:32). Jesus was not sent to lower God but to raise us up so our spirits can return home. We can do that by joining His Kingdom (Matthew 12:28). It behooves us to be careful how we use God and the name Jesus. We should not insist that our secular leaders invoke our Holy God and Jesus Christ our Savior when we no longer fit.