A couple of months ago Simon visited a dying congregation member in hospital. She had been a member of our church for a few years and Simon thought she was a Christian. Until she casually took the Lord’s name in vain. That raised Simon’s doubts about her salvation. He proceeded to ask her questions on her understanding of the gospel. She wasn’t clear on grace at all and so he explained God’s gift of forgiveness in Jesus. She became clear and died with a heart full of peace and assurance.
One of our Lights Mums is incredible in her ‘ministry of the car pool’ – bringing a car full of her children’s friends each week. Because some of these friends are not yet Christian, the car resounds with blasphemous exclamations (‘Oh my God!’) on the trips back and forth from youth group. It’s part of their everyday language.
I remember work colleagues at Telstra apologising to me after blaspheming because they knew I was a Christian.
How should we respond in these different situations? Why is blasphemy a big deal in the first place?
The New Bible Dictionary defines blasphemy in the Old Testament: ‘Here the root meaning of the word is an act of effrontery in which the honour of God is insulted by man. The proper object of the verb is the name of God, which is cursed or reviled instead of being honoured.’ We blaspheme God when we treat his name as a small, dishonourable thing (whether that be God’s name, ‘Yahweh’, his Son, ‘Jesus Christ’ or simply using the word ‘God’ as a curse word). It’s serious because we should treat the name of our Lord with respect. To understand the weight of this, imagine if someone started using your mother’s name as a curse word and how offensive you would find that. We need to remember that behind the name is a person. How much more serious to treat God’s name as trivial!
The third commandment speaks against blasphemy: ‘You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name’ (Ex. 20:7). And the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer calls for the opposite: the hallowing of God’s name (Matt. 6:9). Blasphemy is so serious that it is a capital crime in the Mosaic Law (Lev. 24:10–23). Blasphemy is one of the evils that pours forth from man’s sinful heart (Matt. 15:19). It is a symptom of a deeper problem: a heart that does not rightly fear God.
So how should we respond to the blasphemy that surrounds us? It’s hard to turn on a TV or walk across a playground or sit in a café without hearing it.
My answer: It depends on the authority you have.
If you are a parent, you should teach your children not to blaspheme God’s name (and why). Explain the seriousness of it and make it clear you won’t have any come from their lips.
When I hear blasphemy as a Scripture teacher, I simply tell my class, ‘We won’t have any blasphemy in this class. Do not say ‘Oh my God’ as an exclamation because that is the name of my Lord and saviour and I do not want it treated with disrespect.’
If you are at work and you have no spiritual authority, it’s probably best to let it go through to the keeper. We don’t expect unbelievers to live under God’s rule and we have no responsibility to rebuke those outside the church (1 Cor. 5:12–13). However if a colleague apologises or asks if you mind, you can politely tell them you would prefer they didn’t blaspheme because they are treating your God and saviour with profound disrespect. You might even say something like, ‘Do you know how God forgives blasphemy?’ and explain the gospel.
For the Mum in the car, if it’s a one-off car trip, it’s probably not worth straining the relationship with a child you’re not going to see again. But if it has become a regular trip you might say something like, ‘I know it’s pretty common for people to say ‘Oh my God’ and so I don’t blame you for picking it up from the way other people talk, but I’d prefer you didn’t do it in my car because it’s treating the God I love with disrespect.’
I think we should drop ‘Oh my gosh’ and ‘Oh my goodness’ too – they are just subbing in words for God and often people can’t hear the difference and think you’re blaspheming God’s name anyway.
Finally, as always, remember the grace of God to all sinners (including blasphemers): ‘Even though I was once a blasphemer … I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. … Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.’ (1 Tim. 1:13, 15).