Katie Faley: Revisiting ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain’
Cause of Our Joy / Katie Faley
“Hi, my name is Katie. Nice to meet you.”
Most of my introductions — and I’m assuming your introductions — start this way.
We most often lead with our name. Because we have a name, we are known. When we share our name, we share a piece of our identity with others so that they may be able to come to know us. We are inviting others to know us.
WHAT IS GOD’S NAME?
When God revealed His name to Moses in the Old Testament, He didn’t give a typical name. He gave a verb: “I AM.” God is. Being is God’s identity. It’s perplexing, but it tells us about God’s identity.
Up until that point, God’s people knew that they had a God and a Creator, but they didn’t know God’s identity. When God revealed His name to humanity, He invited us all into relationship with Him and to come to know Him. We can know who He is to us because He has invited us to know His identity by revealing His name.
HOLY IS HIS NAME
God’s name is holy. We know this because of the Second Commandment. Not only is God’s name holy; it is the holiest name. That is why we are commanded to not take God’s name in vain.
Even as an adult, I find myself reducing this Commandment to its literal translation, just the same as I learned it when I was little. To me, not taking the name of the Lord in vain meant that you don’t use God’s name to swear out of anger.
I recently read something about a man who proclaimed he was a “God-fearing, good Christian man.”
However, he was using this explanation to defend himself in court after being convicted of a heinous crime of which he had just been found guilty.
I realized then that taking the name of the Lord in vain was not just swearing out of anger. Not taking the name of the Lord in vain encompasses much more than just our language.
IN WORD AND DEED
When we take on the identity of “Christian,” which we do at baptism, we are also taking on the name of Christ as our own in a way. When we live our lives in a way that doesn’t glorify Christ or is in opposition to His teachings while claiming to be Christian, we are taking the Lord’s name in vain. We have a duty as Christians to live a life of peace, mercy, justice, courage, prudence, faith, hope, charity and every other virtue as Christ taught us in the Scriptures.
When we fail to live a “good Christian life,” especially publicly (like the man who committed the crime I read about), yet hope that our self-proclaimed status as a “good Christian” will save us from consequence, we use God’s name for our own selfishness.
Being a Christian isn’t about putting on a good show for the world. That’s why, in addition to our words, our actions and motivations matter.
This is something that is uniquely held in Catholic Tradition. Our actions must reflect our identity as part of God’s family. We aren’t just Christians because we say we are Christians. We’re Christians because we are participants in a relationship with a Person — Being itself.
I know I don’t live this perfectly. Whenever I read through an examination of conscience, I often breeze right over the Second Commandment without any reflection. I don’t ever say the name of God aloud in vain, so why should I spend any time reflecting on it? But I know now I’ve been skipping an important step. Understanding that taking the name of the Lord in vain is more than just our speech has helped me to re-frame what being a Christian means and how my actions do and don’t reflect that.
I’m thankful for God’s grace through the sacraments for those times that I do fail. But I’m also thankful for the direction that God provides through the commandments so that I can go forward stronger and more authentically.
KATIE FALEY is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria and a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She has a master’s degree in theology and theological studies from the University of Notre Dame. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.