Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Taking the name of the Lord in Vain

Posted by Matthew on March 11, 2008

What does it mean to take the name of the Lord in vain? We could look at lots of scriptures. Here’s 3: Ex 20:7D&C 63:60-65 & D&C 41:1. The first is the famous example–it is one of the ten commandments. The second says that we take the name of the Lord in vain when we speak as though we’re authorized by the Lord when we aren’t. The third curses the members of the Church (because we go by his name) when we don’t listen to Christ. One thing we see from these scriptures is the wide variety of things it means to “take the name of the Lord in vain.”

Which is worse: to hit your hand with a hammer and cry out “God that hurt,” to hit your hand with a hammer and say f— or to close a prayer with the words “in the name of Jesus Christ” without any thought for Jesus?

The second example doesn’t really fit with the other two but I added it to make a point: that it is easy to forget that not taking the name of the Lord in vain is not really about having civilized language.

I was thinking about the prohibition to take the name of the Lord in vain because of the recent comments by Kim and Ryan on RobertC’s post on Lesson 10. Kim’s comments tie very much into D&C 63:30. Great comments. The point of this post is a little different which is why I didn’t add it as a comment there. I think if we aren’t careful we can be a bit hypocritical in our judgement on this subject.

My 4 year old is still learning what it means to pray. It is okay for a 4 year old not to understand at all what he is saying when he closes a prayer in Jesus’s name. The child is innocent. Because of that innocence, in a real sense the child doesn’t take the name of the Lord in vain even though they mean nothing by it when they say it. When I say his name without thinking–I who know the Lord’s name and know its sacredness–when I close a prayer with no thought for Jesus, I take his name in vain. But when my 4 year old says it without thought, he doesn’t say it in vain because he doesn’t even SAY Jesus’s name. It is just the sound of his name. He doesn’t know yet who Jesus is.

Now thinking of a co-worker who really knows nothing of Jesus. When he takes the name of the Lord in vain is it different than my son? 

What are your thoughts?

PS I was supposed to post my notes on lesson 11 tonight. I got a bit distracted thinking about this stuff…I still hope to post them soon.

16 Responses to “Taking the name of the Lord in Vain”

  1. BrianJ said

    I like your three examples because they illustrate the hypocrisy perfectly. I wonder whether Exodus 20:7 even applies to the world at large, seeing that it was given to the covenant people of Israel as part of the covenant. In other words, I’m not sure that a non-Israelite (including both birth and adoption) could take the Lord’s name in vain even if he wanted to.

  2. Matthew said

    Thanks Brian. I was thinking about this more…

    When I wrote this I was also thinking that there is some hypocrisy in the fact that we consider it a serious sin to use the Lord’s name in anger while considering it a minor offense to say his name as just the preface to amen. Not sure though on reflecting on it if this is really hypocrisy or just ignorance (in some case culpable ignorance, in some cases not).

    I’m reminded of Matt 6:7: But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. I think we could apply this to ourselves by saying something like: when you pray, do not say “in the name of Jesus Christ” as a vain formulaic ending to your prayer: for those who do must think that God hears us because of our much repetition of the same phrase to end your prayer.

    I wonder if it wouldn’t be helpful to sometimes start the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ and not end with it, to sometimes say it in the middle and sometimes not at all (for we can pray in Jesus’s name without speaking those words as we see from patterns set for us in the scriptures). The idea would be to draw attention (if not in public at least for ourselves) that to pray in Jesus’s name should not be confused with saying some words like “in Jesus’s name.”

    Interestingly I do none of these and I often feel that my whole prayer is a vain repetition–its something I need to work on. But anyway, as a step in the right direction I don’t know what is holding me back from shacking it up a bit in terms of this phrase to end the prayer. Maybe it is simply the desire to feel confident I am right before going against the grain–a level of confidence I don’t yet have on this subject.

  3. robf said

    Mattew–“shacking it up”? Now that’d be an interesting prayer!

  4. brianj said

    A confidence in going against conformity? Matthew, you spent the last 30+ years following the “missionary discussion formula for prayer”: 1) Address Heavenly Father, 2) I am thankful for…, 3) I ask thee for…, 4) close in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. Perhaps you even remember the missionary flipchart I’m referring to. It’s understandable that that pattern would be ingrained in your (and my) brain, and that going against it would feel awkward. But tell me: is that awkwardness a warning that you are crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed, or is it more like my inability to eat a piece of pizza starting at the crust side instead of the point like I always do?

  5. Kim M. said

    About a month ago I changed the way I eat pizza. The point is always the best bite, so, like a true Freudian, I decided to save the best for last, and start at the crust side. My pizza-eating experience is all the richer as a result. Far more enjoyable.

    (This is not to say that I agree with Matthew. I’m strictly speaking about pizza. ^_^)

  6. robf said

    Is there a problem if we can liken our prayers unto eating pizza? :-)

  7. brianj said

    Kim, you are truly an inspiration.

  8. Jim F. said

    The question of conformity in public prayer is a tough one, tougher than the same question about private prayer. When I say my private prayers, I try to avoid conformity and repetition, though it continues to be a struggle. However, when I pray in public, I have to remember that I’m not praying for myself alone. I have to try to find some compromise between assaulting the congregation with the novelty of my prayer (with the result that they no longer pray, but instead try to figure out what I’m doing) or, conversely, merely repeating vainly what is always said.

  9. Michele Mitchell said

    I would appreciate knowing how anyone avoids repetition in private prayers since I always seem to want blessings for approximately the same people and am principally grateful for and seeking after a repetitive list of things. If I’m still locked into a missionary prayer mode, I wish someone would show me a way out.

  10. Jim F. said

    Michele, when Matthew, I, and others talk about repetition or conformity, we use that term, I think, as shorthand for “vain repetition,” in other words useless repetition. Asking the Lord to bless the same people need not be vain, but doing so in the same old way or in a perfunctory manner probably is.

  11. robf said

    One time on my mission, several of us were at a restaurant with one of the 70, and mid-conversation he raised his arms, loudly said “Dear Lord” and started in on a blessing on the food. We all just kind of looked around, bowed our heads, and hung on for the ride! I don’t remember much else of what he said, but was the most unusual public prayer I’ve ever experienced.

  12. joespencer said

    Rob, I’m thinking of the Normal Rockwell painting of the prayer in the diner (Saying Grace), so far as all the onlookers go, but of course one must replace the old woman and the young boy with a few missionaries and an aging man in a suit with his arms raised… I’ll admit its a humorous picture.

  13. Lynn W. said

    I think I would have felt like crawling under the table if someone were as obvious as that about praying in a restaurant. I have enough trouble with praying at the table at work. I just contemplate my sandwich or whatever I’m about to taste, usually with my eyes open, unless I’m alone, and quickly have a mental prayer, hoping my table mates won’t notice, or worse, interrupt my thoughts with idle chit-chat. I’m a bit of a coward, I guess, too shy for my own good. Of course, this is going on with the TV on to whatever talk show, or court drama is on that day.

    It’s different when I’m out with my Baptist daughter and my grandson. I don’t feel quite as self-conscious when I’m with them, and we always pray before eating, even when we’re at Subway, Mc Donalds, or wherever we happen to be eating.

  14. NathanG said

    Interesting thoughts on prayer. Regarding repetition:

    Matthew 6
    7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
    8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

    I wonder if verse 8 is more important than simlpy avoiding vain repetition. Perhaps the difference is in an understanding of our relationship to God demonstrated by the heathen prayer (vain repetitions) and the prayer Christ would have us pray (which ironically leads to one of the most frequently repeated prayers that probably has become a vain repetition to so many.)

    I think we need to come to understand that God knows us and already knows of our needs and is waiting for us to acknowledge our needs before him. Maybe the heathen prayer is hoping that if something is prayed for long enough this powerful, but removed and indifferent almighty powerful being will condescend to acknowledge our existence and perhaps grant us what we desire.

    As for my own repetitious prayers, I think of how my children ask for things and they repeat themselves over and over, when if they had listened they would have heard their answer the first time. They know what they want, but they don’t pay attention to the conversation. I can see Heavenly Father viewing us as children learning how to communicate with him and hear his answers. I hope he has the patience with me as I try to learn to really communicate. I think he’s waiting for us to have the conversations like this to begin to realize what we are doing when we pray, but until then he is generally patient.

  15. janetlisonbee said

    I don’t know if anyone will even see this, since I am new to this site and it is many months since this question was posted, but I decided to share my thoughts anyway, for what it is worth. We take upon ourselves the name of Christ at baptism. If we take our covenants lightly and do not try to live up to them, we have taken His name in vain. I also agree with the misuse of His name and find that often during talks, testimonies, etc…where we simply use His name as an ending, not that we really spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit. I also think that during the sacrament, when our minds are not focused on the sacrament, that we have partaken unworthily and the renewal of the baptismal covenant is in vain because our minds are not even on it, hence we take His name in vain.

  16. quentin sumner said

    I think this was an even greater command thou shall not take the name of the lord thy god in vain can also be not following the command of the lord or being baptised and not living the gospel. the commandment before that is thou shall not make any graven image and worship it I think that we take the name of the lord in vain when we allow thing to move us away from the gospel even the simple demands of a job or life that we allow to keep us from living a lifestyle contrary to the life God gave us in direction from the scriptures and general authority

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