As I wrote in an early article about the “Hallowed be Thy Name” section of the Lord’s prayer, the name of God is sacred. His name is the greatest revelation that was given to the Hebrew people as sign of His intimacy with them.
For this reason, any offense against the name of God is a sin. His name is so special and to not treat it with reverence is an insult. How much worse then is it to use it as a curse?
The Apostle Peter said “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The name of the Lord has power. To this day our priests drive out demons by the power of the name of God. And it is under the name of God that we are baptized: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore to use that same name as a curse is to sully something sacred.
Take your name, for example. Imagine if someone decided to take your name and use it as a malediction. Let’s say that at your work or school people began to use your name as a synonym for some awful quality.
“Don’t be a lazy jerk, you don’t want to be a [insert your name].” “What’s that smell? It stinks as bad as [insert your name].” “I’m attractive, I’m not a [insert your name].”
Perhaps you have a thick skin, but I think this would wear down most of us. It would hurt because our names, which are the verbal summary of who we are, are sullied.
And that is what we do to God when we use His name as a curse.
This includes habitual exclamations like “Oh my G–?” When I correct my students on this behavior, they tell me, “I didn’t mean it, it’s just a habit.” My response is always the same, “It’s time to break that habit.” Habitual sins may not carry with them the immediate malicious intent, but the fact that a sin has become a habit tells us how much it has woven its way into our souls.
As a side note, general cussing is not covered by the 2nd Commandment. This is a shock to many people, but it is true. The f-word, the s-word, any of the c-words… these are all considered vulgar by society but are not sins against taking God’s name in vain. These cuss words are just words that our current society have deemed improper for civilized conversation. But they are not intrinsically evil words. I believe the f-word originally meant “to plant a seed.” I would be curious to see if this word appears in its original form in ancient texts about farming. The s-word simply describes something that comes out of the human body that we associate with being dirty and disgusting.
Now please do not misunderstand: I am not saying that cussing is never a sin. It can be a sin against charity. If these words are used unjustly injure another person, then it is a sin. If these words are used to corrupt and scandalize the innocent, like shouting these vulgarities around children causing an erosion of their innocence, then it is a sin. But saying the words, in and of themselves, does not constitute a sin; it is only a sin in a certain context.
For example, I once was alone in my home and preparing to write a paper I had due for a philosophy class I was taking in college. When I began I looked at the due date and it turned out that I had missed the deadline. Underneath it said that the paper was worth 30% of my grade and no late papers would be accepted. What followed was loud string f-bombs that spilled out of my mouth at maximum rage and volume. Now, because there was no one there to hear these words and become insulted, it was not a sin (FYI, I talked to the professor and he let me turn it in late with a grade reduction). But if I had shouted the Lord’s name as a curse, it would have been a sin even though I was alone.
And if you are in mature company that is not insulted by that language, it is also not a sin. It common for guys to bond with each other through trash talking. As long as everyone isn’t offended and it is not a way to injure the other, it is also not a sin. And by trash talk, I am not talking about provocative talk that leads others thoughts and actions to sin. For example, if a group of guys is together and one of them begins to describe a woman in vulgar words so as to get the other men to think in unchaste way, then that use of vulgarity would be sinful.
Why am I going out of my way to make these distinctions? Because for some reason, there are many people who get uptight about common vulgarity but do not think twice about breaking the 2nd commandment. It should be crystal clear that using God’s name as a curse in much, much worse than cussing.
The antidote to this is not only to cease sinning with our words, but to cultivate a love for the name of God. I read a story once that St. Anthony of Padua would have visions of angels and the two of them would trying to outdo each other in saying Jesus name with love.
One of my favorite words to say is my wife’s name. It is special to me. And when she says my name with all of her affection, my heart melts. Some times when I am alone in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I will simply say the name “Jesus,” opening my heart to all the love that this name brings to me. The name is so special, that now whenever I hear someone use it as a curse in movies, TV, or in real life, I reflexively respond out loud “Have mercy on us!”
So let us reverence God’s holy name that we may find the grace and power of that name.
W. L. Grayson, ©2016