Hallowed be Your name
Is there no respect?

Man’s failure to respect that which is sacred has, through the ages, been detrimental to the culture of the day as well as being displeasing to God. God’s name represents His person just as your name represents you. The scriptures in both Testaments are replete with instructions and examples emphasizing the sacredness of the names of the divine.

Personally, I am old enough to have experienced the days when mothers who heard their children use God’s name as an expletive or use other “swear words” and unbecoming language would threaten with “I’ll wash out your mouth with soap and water.” Using the name of Jesus and using substitutes for God’s name such as “gosh” or “golly” was also punishable. Things have changed since then. We now hear mothers themselves using such expressions in casual and otherwise wholesome conversations in front of their children and in public. Women, in their push for equality, it seems, feel that the use of such language is one way of being equal.

Perhaps my mother’s early efforts contribute to my reaction to the now so commonly heard, “Oh My God.” My involuntary reaction to hearing this phrase, especially from unexpected sources, is similar to the chills that run up my spine when a student playfully causes hard chalk to screech on the chalk board. The popular TV program, “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,” serves as an example. For me, a very fine program that encourages the Biblical concept of helping the less fortunate is ruined by the frequent and, I fear, deliberate use of the “Oh My God” phrase. The frequency suggests that these people must be coached to use this expression. I have renamed this show “The OMG Show” and avoid viewing it. I am startled, shocked, to hear this expression freely flowing from unexpected sources such as the tongues of “ladies”, mothers, teachers.

In bygone days this type of language was commonly heard from the worldly, those who were not making any effort to be God’s people. It is shocking to hear it in casual conversation among parents, teachers and church leaders. Recently, individual articles in religious journals as well as a couple of special issues (See Gospel Herald, March 2010 – God the Father for one) have highlighted the greatness of God and the importance of giving Him due respect. Similar emphasis has been noted in recent worship service themes. The contrast between these and what is being heard in daily conversation has prompted me to compose this article on a topic that has been on my mind for a long time.

It is clear that God’s names have always borne special significance and that He has expected such to be recognized by those who would please Him. This should not surprise us. Our own names are important to us. We are pleased and complimented when people remember our names and use them in addressing us and when they, in general, show respect for our names. The opposite is also true. We are demeaned and displeased if our names are used in careless and disrespectful ways.

An interesting item entitled “Blasphemers of Ireland Beware” appeared in the January 18th edition of MacLean’s Magazine. It begins, “Be careful how you invoke the name of god . . . any god . . . in Ireland.” and tells us of legislation which bans the publication of material, “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.” Surely the names of God and Jesus Christ should be held sacred by all Christians.

Ireland’s 1937 constitution already outlawed blasphemy. Its 1961 Defamation Act included the possibility of both a fine and up to seven years in prison. These laws recognize, in fact, require that language usage show respect for what others hold sacred. They are primarily geared to avoid our offending each other. This reminds us of the workmen who adjust their speech when their minister drops by. They may be concerned about offending his sensitivities or, perhaps, more about hiding their true character from him. Being careful not to offend others is important but how much more careful ought we to be not to offend almighty God by our careless, casual and disrespectful use of His name? We cannot hide our true character from Him.

Number three of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” (Ex.20:7 NRSV). An online Reader’s Digest service has an item entitle, “If God Had Texted the Ten Commandments” that the reader will find interesting. For number three we find “no omg’s”. When Ezra led the people of Israel in national confession, he instructed them to stand up and “bless the Lord our God” and declared, “Blessed be your name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.” (Neh.9:5)

The title of this article is the words used by Jesus in the beginning of the “model prayer”, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . .” (Mt.6:9). We often include this or similar phrases in our prayers. These are “empty words” if we do not show respect for God’s name in our everyday communications. We sing hymns such as, “We Trust in the Name of the Lord our God,” “Glorify the Lord” and “Exalt His Holy Name.” Do we mean what we sing and pray?

There was a time when God’s name was held so holy by the Hebrew people that they were afraid to speak it. The scribes, whose occupation was to hand copy the scriptures would stop copying and ritually purify themselves with water before transcribing God’s names. (You are encouraged to google “scribes, God’s names” and read more about the extremes to which the scribes were required to go when transcribing God’s names.) How would one of them react to the casual ways that His name is used today by many? How, indeed, does God feel about this?

To those whose response to these comments is, “God knows that I don’t mean any disrespect,” we ask, “What do you mean? Using the name of God as an exclamation (punctuation point) in a slang way has meaning or does not have meaning. If it has meaning, it is disrespectful to God and His people. If it does not have meaning, it is being used in a vain, empty way which cannot be pleasing to God.

The Psalmist, after declaring several verses expressing praise for God’s wonderful works, concluded, “Holy and awesome is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise it have a good understanding.” (Ps.111:9,10)

Let us demonstrate at least “the beginning of wisdom” and some “good understanding” in the use of the name of our Holy God. We fear that the casual way that we vocalize God’s name in our culture is evidence of a growing disrespect for God Himself and hence in the way we respond to His word and apply it in our daily living.

Let us show a very high respect for God, His name and His word.

Eugene C. Perry

Published in The Old Paths Archive