While I was growing up I was always taught and always understood that saying "oh my God" in a way that is used to express shock or surprise, is taking the Lord's name in vain. The idea is that using His name this way (although many argue that God isn't His name) is using it in an empty, worthless, meaningless way. Turning His name (or His title in the Godhead) into a common word that one can just toss around as if it means nothing, is worthless and empty.
It wasn't until I became older that I ever heard anyone reject this teaching and claim that taking His name in vain means something else. I've heard several definitions of this, including the one that says professing to be a Christian and then looking/acting/sounding just like the world, is a form of taking His name in vain. I find it striking however, that among some who've rejected the teaching that I grew up with and give it a different meaning, they use His name (or title) in the very way I've defined in the first paragraph.
In our day, you can't turn on the tv, radio, computer, go out in public, go to work or school, without hearing someone say "oh my God". This bothers me a great deal, and bothers me more and more, the older I get. Of course I realize it's coming from the lips of those that have no relationship with God and therefore think nothing of using His name this way. To them, it is indeed empty and meaningless.
This year in school our youngest Ruth is learning the shorter catechism. One of her sets of questions and answers to memorizie is:
Q: How can you glorify God?
A: By loving Him and doing what He commands.
Q: Why should you glorify God?
A: Because He loves me and takes care of me.
It is critical for me as her mother, and as a believer, to see to it that she understands Who holds her very breath, her beating heart, her very existance in the palm of His hand. More than that, to give Him all due honor, reverence and respect, because He is indeed her Creator. It is my heart's desire that all my kids understand this and live accordingly.
As I thought about this over the last few days I think one of the reasons it bothers me so much when I hear His name used so flippantly is partly what's implied in this verse:
"You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" (Romans 9:19)
The implied attitude behind this verse is that mere man has the audacity to question the omnipotent, omniscient Creator of all. The very next verse lays it out quite clear:
"On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? (Romans 9:20)
Quite often when I hear the Lord's name taken in vain in the way it is when used as a meaningless expression of surprise or shock, I find myself thinking along the same lines - "who are you mere human, who speaks His name in such an empty way?" Part of my reaction is sadness, that His name IS meaningless to so many people. Part of it is a fierce loyalty to Him that anyone could dare be so disrespectful to Him in that way.
It becomes harder and harder to watch anything on tv, including commercials, without hearing this. Truly we do live in a Godless society and the media reflects it (and both influences and reflects culture more and more all the time) in just about every kind of medium.
Some would call this nitpicking. Some would call it being judgemental or making a big deal out of nothing. Some, would have me lighten up and live and let live. For those that call it nitpicking and judgemental, I can only refer them to this verse of Scripture:
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Ex.20:7)
Psalm 139:20 Goes on to say that it's the enemies of God, that take His name in vain. I don't know about anyone else, but I would certainly never want to carry that title around and be known BY God as an enemy of Him and His very word says this is exactly what His enemies do. His enemies think nothing of taking His name in vain - speaking against Him, showing Him no honor, no reverence, and considering Him meaningless, and useless.
Some would say, that saying "Oh my God" in a way that expresses surprise or shock does not fall into this category at all. I've heard those arguments and somehow they're just never as convincing as the ones trying to make them hope they are.
Yes, I do believe words matter.