No, this post is not about a divine steak, sadly. It’s about words and how we use them. Fascinating, I know, but think with me for a minute.
A few years ago, I watched an old home video of myself opening presents on Christmas day as a little kid. As I unwrapped the toys I had waited for all year, I yelled out over and over this phrase, “Holy cow!” For some reason I really enjoyed exclaiming that strange combination of words. And I’ve got to admit, watching it years later was pretty funny.
But I started thinking: why the word “holy”? I mean, of all the words I could have used, I chose to brilliantly pair the word “cow” with the word “holy”. Undoubtedly I had picked up that phrase from some TV show or something, and we all know it’s a spin-off from another, more offensive, phrase. But again, why the word “holy”?
The word “holy” is an important word, a word found in scripture to describe God himself. So why is one of God’s attributes often used as an expletive? And you know, now that I think about it, several of the words we consider “curse words” have to do with God. Words like “Jesus”, “Christ”, “God”, “Lord”, “damn”, “holy”, and “hell”. Those are the ones that come to mind offhand. So why do we use spiritual words when we cuss? Why we do we use “sacred” words to say things that almost everyone would consider bad language?
I have a theory I want to share. Hang with me here. Do you remember the third of the Ten Commandments? “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Because of this command, we learned as kids to replace the phrase “oh my God” with “oh my goodness”, or if you really wanted to toe the line you might say, “oh my gosh.”
But if you study the 10 commandments, you’ll find there’s more to this command than we think. That word “vain” means worthless, trivial, or insignificant. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is using God’s name in a flippant, casual way. It’s when we speak his name in a way that does not really honor his greatness. (Which makes me wonder how often we break this command in church.)
Taking the Lord’s name in vain is using his incredibly costly name in a cheap way. It’s making light of the heaviness of God. It’s minimizing the magnitude of God. But this is the exact thing we see happening in our culture today. Our culture loves to take big, serious, sacred things and make light of them. For example, sex is something that God takes very seriously. This is why the Bible gives so many commands about it. Sex was designed by God to be a private, intimate act for married couples only. Sex is the way God chose to bring more of his people into the world. Sex is a big deal, but our culture makes light of it. From pornography to the sexual references in your favorite TV show, the world is telling us, “Sex isn’t that big of a deal.” They want us to believe that sex is a trivial, casual thing, when it’s anything but that.
Here we discover a pattern. When we sin, we are taking lightly something that is very important. We are cheapening something that is significant. Murder is the cheapening of life. Lying is the cheapening of truth. Adultery is the cheapening of marriage and sex. Remember when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the garden? He said, “Did God really say you couldn’t eat this fruit? It’s not that big of a deal guys. It’s just a bite of delicious fruit. God just doesn’t want you to know what he knows” (Obviously my paraphrase). Satan was taking something that was very serious, God’s command, God’s authority, and making it trivial and vain. He was minimizing God’s greatness.
And we do the exact same thing when we sin. Sin is taking God lightly. It’s treating his word, his authority, and his greatness with a casual, worthless attitude.
Here’s where I want to land this plane. When it comes to the way we talk, I think we use lots of important words in casual, flippant ways. “Hell yeah” is not a cool response when your favorite team scores a touchdown. Hell is a serious word because hell is a real place where real people are really burning in an eternal fire. And “holy cow” is not a cool response when opening Christmas gifts. Holy is the word that the angels in heaven are using to worship God right now as they surround his throne. These are big-time words, and I’m just not sure God wants us to use them in such casual ways.
I was at an Applebee’s one time and asked the waiter if he liked the new chicken tenders they were advertising. I kid you not, he responded by saying, “That chicken is like Jesus!” I will admit the chicken was very good, but I think it might be a stretch to compare it to the Son of God. I understand that’s a funny example, but Christians and non-Christians throw around important words like these all the time.
I noticed recently that I overuse the words “awesome” and “amazing”. This pizza is awesome. That game was amazing. The more I use those words, the less significance they have. If I use a word like “awesome” to describe a piece of pizza, then what word do I use to describe God? God is the one that actually brings me awe and amazement. So for me personally, to use those words in any other context is to use them in vain.
As Christians, we’ve got to use words differently than the world uses them. This is more than just cursing, which I think we all agree does not honor God. But we need to show people that words like “holy” and “Christ” are loaded with life-altering significance. Those words represent glorious truths, truths that are worth more than yelling them out when you stub your toe on the couch.
So I’m working on my words. I’m going to attempt to reserve important words for important moments. And while I’m at it, I’ll definitely stop pairing God’s attributes with cattle.