I should start off by saying this post isn’t meant to stir up a theological debate or to prove which belief is the “right” one on this topic. Rather, this post is a call for Christian Fiction readers to consider how we regard and talk about an author when their thinking may differ from ours.
It seems many Christian readers frown if, in Christian Fiction or in fiction written by Christians, they see characters use “Oh my G…” or “Oh L…” as casual interjections. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for Christians to frown or cringe at that when they’ve been taught not to take the Lord’s name in vain.
However, it does concern me when ChristFic readers begin to criticize an author’s Christian standards or speculate on the author’s spiritual condition because their fictional characters use those interjections.
It’s no secret that Christians the world over interpret biblical teachings differently and have different doctrinal views. That’s nothing new. So it’s important to realize that not every Christian has the same belief about what “taking the Lord’s name in vain” actually means.
Consider this fact about me: I am my mother’s daughter. She’ll often identify me as such to people who don’t know me (“This is my daughter”), or she’ll sometimes address me as such as a term of endearment. “Hello, daughter!”
Even so, though I am her daughter, “daughter” isn’t my name. Not even if you were to spell it with a capital D. My name is Nadine.
Some Christians don’t consider saying “Oh my G…” to be taking the Lord’s name in vain because they don’t consider His name to be “God.” We commonly use that more generic word as a reference to Him or as an alternative to His name, whether out of habit, for convenience, by tradition, out of respect, or whatever the case.
But when Moses inquired after the Lord’s name in the book of Exodus, did the Lord answer, “My name is God, with a capital G”?
He answered Moses by saying, “I AM THAT [or WHO] I AM. Tell the Israelites, ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.” The “I AM” phrase there relates to the name Yahweh, sometimes shortened as Yah or Jah. The name is where we get the phrase “praise Jah,” or as we better know it, “Hallelujah.” (Hallelu-Jah! Not so much “hallelu-god.”)
Moreover, to the Hebrews who received that commandment about the Lord’s name (and to many people today, especially in certain cultures), one’s name isn’t merely a sound you make or letters or symbols you write down to refer to someone, like “Joe” or “Jane.” Rather, one’s name is a declaration about who a person is, their character and reputation.
It’s where we get an expression like “So-and-So has a good name in the community.” The point isn’t that So-and-So is called Joe or Jane, or to say “Joe” or “Jane” is a nice name to have. What the person is literally called, for practical language/communication purposes, is beside the point. The point of the expression is to refer to that person’s character and reputation.
Even if Joe were called Bill, and if Jane were called Beth, it wouldn’t change who they are as people. And there may be other Joes and Janes out there, called by those same literal names, but that’s not the point, either. It’s the speaker’s meaning and intent behind the word “Joe” or “Jane” that gives significance to the expression, “Joe/Jane has a good name in the community.”
Taking on the name of the Lord is to take on His character, His reputation. Not just what we verbally call Him for the sake of limited, earthly communication, but Who He is. And no matter what limited, earthly language we speak, it’s the meaning and intent behind what we call Him that’s of paramount significance, not the earthly word itself. Earthly words can only go so far to represent or explain what is not of this earth.
There are Christians who believe the commandment about not taking the Lord’s name in vain doesn’t have to do with saying, “Oh my G…” or what have you. It’s about claiming the name—the character, the reputation—of the Lord in vain, to no avail. Claiming Him, saying you’re a believer in Him, but then not behaving like it.
In that sense, the commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain isn’t a rule about cussing. It’s a commandment about how you live. As if to say, “Thou shalt not claim connection to the LORD thy God while living a lie.”
It’s like if you get married to someone, you claim connection to their name or take their name as your own, but then you go around having romantic flings with other people. You’re living a lie, behaving as if you aren’t married to your spouse, whose name you now share. That would mean you’ve taken your spouse’s name in vain.
When people have a different belief concerning the Lord’s name, “Oh my G…” may just be a colloquial phrase to them, an interjection having nothing to do with the meaning and intent behind the name Yahweh. Having nothing to do with the sacredness of declaring or taking on Yahweh’s character and reputation.
Now, in case you’re wondering about this particular author’s writing: if a character in one of my books says, “Oh, God,” it’s not a mere interjection. It’s a prayer. Still, I’m well aware that not every Christian has the same beliefs about what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain.
And whatever your belief is on the matter, or any number of other matters, I trust it’s best not to jump to conclusions about an author’s Christianity or personal standards because of something one of their fictional characters did or said.
On a related note, we live in an era of author websites, social media, email, and such. Though it isn’t possible to do so in every case, the best way to get a clearer understanding of an author’s heart or intent on a matter may be to go ahead and contact them about your concerns regarding their book. To ask the author questions and to consider their answers. Not to merely prejudge or speculate about the author. 🙂