The Bible says: “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain”. Indeed. To do so would be offensive to God, and who wants to offend God? Some people take the commandment to mean that the phrase used in the title should not be used as an exclamation – and these are the moderate people. The “extreme” people include orthodox Jews, who think God’s name is so holy they omit the vowels from his name so it can’t be pronounced: “YHWH” is all we get. Some Protestant Christians (mostly American, as I have seen) are at it too, replacing the “o” in “God” by “-“, making “G-d” also unpronounceable*.

While I understand and fully endorse the reasons behind the “extreme” view (i.e. people believe in keeping God’s name holy, as it is holy), I have a rather different take on the commandment, and I’ll use “Oh my God” as an example.

“Oh” is the exclamation, an almost instinctive verbal reaction to surprise, shock, horror and other suddenly triggered emotions. There’s nothing really wrong about this word.

“my” is an adjective that expresses a relationship between myself and the subject of the sentence.

The most important part of the phrase is: who’s the subject? Well, “God” is. In fact, “God” is most significant word in the phrase. Who’s God? Well, he’s the creator of heaven and earth, dispenser of justice and compassion, and ultimately source of salvation and life. And he ismy God, so why should I not be allowed to call him that? Isn’t it abnormal for one to avoid calling one’s best friend by name?

So what’s wrong with using the phrase in times of surprise? In such times, isn’t it infinitely better to refer to God, and remind myself of my relationship with him, than to spit out some rude word or an “innocuous sounding word” such as “gosh” or “days”? Is God not allowed to share in my emotions? Does he not have a stake in how I feel? Should he not be the Person I turn to first in times of surprise, as opposed to excrement, sexual activity or simply sounds that don’t have any meaning?

I don’t doubt that some uses of the phrase does blaspheme the Lord, especially if they are used by non-believers (simply because they don’t have God). But I shall use “Oh my God” with gladness and pride. It is an invitation to my Friend to share in my emotions.

* Although, strictly speaking, God’s name is not “God”. “God” describes who God is, rather like “human” describing “Tim”. God’s name is “YHWH”, or, as he calls himself: I AM WHO I AM. So it seems that replacing “o” with “-” is a bit over the top…