In my Wednesday night Parish Academy Class we looked at Commandment #3 from the great list of Ten. “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Or, as the NIV puts it, “misuse the Name…”
We talked about how to understand that. After all, it is God Himself Who is God, not His Name. So why the delicacy about that Name?
That led us to think about the symbols that provide us ways to think and talk about intangible concepts. We can’t actually touch or see some of the things we talk about: love, infinity, Abraham Lincoln. We can only talk about things like that by using language-symbols that represent them.
Such symbols are a hugely effective shortcut. We’re all used this. I tested my class by displaying a series of graphic images, like these:
They were able to quickly identify the associations they had in their minds for these symbols. None of the things were actually before us in the room, but brandishing their symbol caused our minds to flood with thoughts and experiences relating to them.
Although I hadn’t planned it this way, I also showed them one symbol that had nearly everyone in the room stumped. No one could tell me the significance of this image:
I had thought it would be a familiar image but instead we all had a lesson in how a symbol that has not been learned, or has lost it’s intended meaning, has no ability to stir our minds or hearts one way or the other.
If I had told my class that the logo represented a golf course membership or the brand of a type of teleprompter, they would not have known the difference. If they tried to act on such garbled meanings, they would only be able to mislead others or look foolish in the eyes of those who know the correct meaning of the symbol.
So, to return to the topic of this class, why is God concerned for how we make use of His Name? Because He intends for each of us to be living symbols representing Him to the world. When we announce that the label and symbols of “Christian” describe us, people take what we are as representative of who God is. If our witness is poor, we leave a garbled impression of God. We misuse His Name.