You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain, Exodus 3:7.
Years ago a fellow took my name. He took my identity, actually. He used my identity to get credit cards, my credit rating to secure some properties, my social security number to buy his way into various small medical clinics where he got prescription pain killers for his use and for sale to other addicts. I was not he, nor was he me, but he used my name all over North Central Texas.
He took my name in vain.
That is to say, the thief used my name for purposes I did not intend.
He took up a ton of my time, he cost me some money, he then got himself arrested, all the while using my name. I barely avoided a felony record. He used my name for purposes I never intended in ways I never wanted.
When I found him and confronted him, first personally and then legally, he expressed to me his deep and abiding faith in God. He urged me not to "get side-tracked" with this problem, so I could "do my ministry" with a full heart.
No remorse, no shame; just a profession of an empty belief in God, a belief that in no way informed his actions.
I put the brother in jail. He got out in a few months and tried it again. He did not get so far this time.
To use God's name in vain is not the mere ephemeral use of foul language combined with the use of a divine component. It is, rather, the use of the name of God for a purpose of self-aggrandizement for which that name was never intended.
Ten years ago now my middle son said to me, about basketball, "Dad, we are all through playing. You are through coaching. Let's go be referees."
His idea sounded so reasonable at the time.
We paid our dues, got our books and videos. We studied hard, went to meetings and just generally did what one does to become a good referee.
The fellow taking our dues did not turn them into the state association, TASO. He kept the money from 45 referees for two season, about $10,000. When he was caught, he begged for mercy, as he had very recently found the Lord and would not steal again. He was sorry he did not have the money any longer but he would not take any more. To me, personally, he insisted on forgiveness, for compassion, for clemency. I must practice clemency he told me, so that "God could bless my ministry."
Years later I still work to get the paperwork straight concerning how long I have paid dues to TASO and how long I have been a referee. So much in the referee profession is based on points for seasons involved, meetings made and games called. You work hard for years to amass points in order to move up in points standings so you can get higher level games.
To take the name of the Lord in vain is not a single instant of rhetorical flourish in private or public. To take God's name in vain is to use God's name to excuse one's own failures. In the same way that one may believe he may vocalize any hateful thing he wants if he only includes some palliative measure, so does it seem some find God an ever present shield in times of (self-inflicted) dishonor. This it is to take the name of the Lord God in vain.
God did not leave this fellow unpunished. He did not go to jail. He repaid part of his ill-gotten gains. He lost a position he had sought for some time. There are some places he is no longer welcome.
He absolutely taught me to take care around little men who seek position as though it is their right. Men who feel others owe them something are the most dangerous. Since they are most dangerous, they are in the most danger.
God says He, God, will not leave them unpunished. After the social disgrace, at the end of financial ruin, in the throes of their addiction to drugs, or money or power, these little men (and women,for the fairer sex is not immune) still face the greater penalty; God will judge them. In fact, God does judge them this day.
The second fellow, in confrontation, also reminded me personally of my sacred calling to ministry. He also urged me to think of my work and leave him alone. He showed no remorse, not until the legal authorities got involved. Then, he suddenly found the Lord and gained the right to admonish me.
You cannot hate without arrogance. Arrogance is a component part of evil, of hatred, of gossip and of malice.
Notice that each of the fellows, the thieves, wished for others to return to our routine, as if routine is normalcy. The thief, the liar, the arrogant abuser counts on the inner wish of decent people to live a normal, routine life, with predictable results for consistent actions. The thief, the liar, the arrogant abuser wants to meet you at the end of your hard work, where he may purloin the sweat of your brow. When he invites God to theft he takes the name of God in vain.
A year ago I began to seek a different place of service. Yes, I did. I reached out to various people in the ecclesiastical network. Some were blessedly honest. They told me my written words of critical reform and my whistle-blower actions made me too toxic for them. They could not help.
Given the opportunity most of us will remain captive to our routine. There are worse prisons than words. The despotic conscience we beg to go away and leave us alone. We are finally making a decent living, and we do not wish to risk much.
There are those times we use God to cover our cowardice. When our own conscience repulses us, we may turn to God. We may insist God has put us in this spot and God should remove us if God wants. As for us, we will keep silent (at best) or simply repeat "Peace, peace, there is only peace." The latter cry is worse than the former but their result is the same.
When we use God to cover our silence or affirm the truth of our untruths we take the name of the Lord God in vain. I sat in my comfortable office day after day, thinking of the living I made, the name I had worked so hard over so many years to build, of the children and wife who depended on me. I thought of every reason one could conjure to keep quiet. I asked God to use someone else.
"Here am I Lord," I told God. "Send him. Or her."
There is a place in religious service where nobility trumps routine. It is the highest place of calling and we all aspire to it. When we finally see the mount, we suddenly realize that to ascend the mountain means we must leave the lower, fruited plain. When we look back down at the plains we see all our friends and every creature comfort. Atop the mountain we see no one but God and He may must be a glare off frozen rock for all we know.
"If the high summit is so great," we wonder to ourselves, "why doesn't anyone else live up here?"
I cast my lot with the reformers. I blew the whistle. Men punish me regularly. One dear dolt uses his entire blog to do nothing but attack me. I do not escape the punishment.
Before I came to this place of service where now I work, I met a man who said he would help me. He offered me some retraining for a cost, sent my name a few places where no one ever called back and stayed in touch.
Then, I received incontrovertible evidence he was disparaging me to the one group that h
ad gotten interested in me. He told them I was too energetic, would move too fast for them. When that did not work he told some of them I was too old. He told them I was anti-this or pro-that. He threw a lot of mud on the wall to see what might stick. He did not stay within the search team but infected anyone who would slow down to listen.
The lay-people on the search team saw through him.
"Methinks," the bard said, "she doth protest too much."
When confronted, the buffoon claimed holy leadership and meekly retreated. When I confronted him he just lied. He lied with ease and great facility (as though he had lied well before, as though he expected the occasional slip of his lip, as though he had prepared his lies) but in the end, he just lied. He invoked his sacred responsibility and urged me to focus on my ministry and not on him.
It is instructive that the identity thief, the reputation thief and the character assassin all need their victims to return to that life we never left. They need for normal people to live normally, so that they might meet us at the end of our work to take their unearned share..
This is what it is to take the name of the Lord God in vain.The fellow need not fear jail. He may face legal action, that is yet to be decided. He certainly risks exposure and that exposure will surely come for him. The organization he represents is no longer welcome. There is cost to duplicity, even if we are only complicit to the duplicity.
More simply put, one ought to remove oneself from any action that might attract the wrath of God. To take the Lord's name in vain, e.g., to use God's name to cover illegal, immoral or unethical activity is one act God says will not escape divine punishment. We ought not to make God's name a hollow reed.