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Use the Lord’s name: as you would the name of a loved one

"You shall not utter the name of Yahweh your God to misuse it, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished the man who utters his name to misuse it.” (Exod 20:7, Deut 5:11)

What’s in a name? A name identifies a person as a distinct individual, who is in relationship with others. To illustrate this, try to imagine an encounter with a nameless person. In such an encounter, that person would be utterly distant and unknown to you. Name and identity are so interrelated, that a “nameless person” would be a “non-person” to you, a non-entity and someone with whom you could not relate.

Giving a name to someone is the opposite. It means you relate to this person’s inner being, that this person has special meaning and value to you. Sweethearts sometimes give each other names of endearment, names that mean something to each other – meanings no one else can understand. When lovers speak each other’s names, something is called out from within that is so intimate that no one else can experience that unique connection. For example, think of what happens inside “Julie” when her husband softly whispers, “Oh, Julie, I really love you!” Something deep within her stirs.

Uttering the name of another summons that person’s very being to you. The occasion may be formal or it may be intimate. Nevertheless, the effect is the same. When your name is uttered, called, or whispered, you become part of a special relationship with the one using your name. Thus it is that a name is given at baptism and at confirmation, or when a person enters a religious order. Who that person is takes on a new and special meaning in his or her relationship with God.

Is then, God’s name, or Jesus’ name, to be used as an exclamation point? As part of a curse? As an oath you have no intention of keeping or honoring? Perjury is not simply an offense against the honor of a court in which you have sworn by God’s name to tell the truth. No, it is more – it is an offense against the honor, dignity and very being of God! Perjury is using God – His honor and dignity – in order to get away with a lie.

Jesus takes all of this very seriously. In His Sermon on the Mount we find Him teaching the following: “Again, you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matt 5:33-37)