My Grandma Marie, who grew up in Berlin, Germany, used to tell a joke to my brothers and me:
“There once was a boy who was sent to the market by his mother to buy some cheese and crackers for dinner. On the way home from the market, the boy could not resist jumping into a puddle on the street. While doing this, he accidentally dropped the bag of groceries in the puddle. The boy exclaimed, “Jesus Christ and God Almighty!” Just then, the village priest walked by. He stopped, and sternly asked the boy to repeat what he had just said. The boy answered, “Um, Father, cheese and crackers got all messy!”
What a groaner! But whenever Grandma told my brothers and me this joke (for the hundredth time), we would wait for the best part: Grandma throwing her head back, and breaking into her distinctive musical chortle as if it were the first time telling it!
Swearing was a big no-no in my family. The worst thing Mom ever said was, “Hell’s bells!” Unfortunately, profanity has become part of our 21st century American culture—part of our everyday vocabulary. I must admit that I have been known to ‘turn the air blue’ when I am really mad about something. At least my intention is to not have swearing become too easy.
In his study on the Ten Commandments, author and pastor Adam Hamilton offers a couple ways of understanding of the Third Commandment that go beyond refraining from swearing. The first concerns oath-keeping; when we promise to do something and want the other person to know how serious we are about it, we might say, ‘I swear to God. . . ‘. If you have ever been on jury duty or sat in a courtroom during a trial, you might hear the witness swear to God that their testimony is true and accurate. Hamilton emphasizes the importance of keeping our promises, especially when we swear to God!
The second way of understanding the Third Commandment, which as a Christian, makes me want to ‘turn the air blue’ (swear), is when someone in public makes a statement that they swear came from God, himself. A personal example is while in seminary, some friends and I came upon a group of members of the Westboro Baptist Church on a street corner across from Northwestern University, picketing with signs that claimed God hates Jews and gays. Even their children were holding these hate-filled signs. The way I see it, this group was breaking the Third Commandment by taking the name of God in vain.
Take some time this week thinking about the meaning of the Third Commandment, and if you have ever broken it. If you have--as I have--remember that God forgave you, and will always forgive you when you break the Third, or any of the Ten Commandments!