The Second Commandment: You Shall Not Take the Name of the Lord Your God in Vain

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!

We continue our short meditations on the Ten Commandments of our Lord. Throughout this article, we will meditate on the Second Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

God, having created all people in His image and likeness, invites them to communicate with Him. This relationship becomes stronger and deeper when His people discover God’s love for them. As a result, their love for Him grows and they strive to live for God and do what is pleasing to Him.

The Second Commandment, You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, is an invitation to discover who God is, to discover His love for us and to build a relationship with Him based on that love.

The key words of the Second Commandment are “the name of Lord.” In the Bible the meaning of the name is very deep. The name is reality in its deepest identity. Therefore, whoever bestows a name upon someone is, in some way, its master. For example, Adam provides names to the animals in Genesis 2, 19-20 and in this way affirms his dominion over them. Thus, whoever knows a person’s name knows that person and his/her identity and establishes an intimate and profound communion with that person.

Now let’s ponder this question: do we know God’s name? In the Book of Exodus 3, 13-14, we find an extraordinary moment when God reveals His Name to Moses and to all of us: “But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” God replied to Moses: “I am who I am.” Then he added: “This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”

Surprisingly, God reveals His name not as a noun but as a verb “I AM.” Why this mystical answer? Is this definition “I am who I am” the revelation of God’s actual name? The answer is found in the meaning of the name in the Hebraic tradition. If the name is the reality and identity of a person, then God’s name is unknown and ineffable, just like his mysterious being and the verb. “I AM” shows us an effective presence and action of God in human history and in the life of each of us, so here we must understand that God is life. Where God is present, everythingthere is filled with life.

So what does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? Our Mother Holy Catholic Church teaches us: The Second Commandment enjoins respect for the Lord’s name. The name of the Lord is holy. The second commandment forbids every improper use of God’s name. Blasphemy is the use of the name of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Virgin Mary and of the saints in an offensive way. This answer is truly clear and comprehensible, and here are some examples of using God’s name in vain in our culture: when we say “Oh my God” or “Jesus Christ” and we are saying it in a negative way, we are using God’s name in vain. Very often we hear “O my God” or “Jesus Christ” and it is used as if it wasn’t a big deal, but it really is. We should praise God instead of taking his name as an expression of our emotions!

But let’s look at this commandment from another point of view. For even more clarity, let’s contemplate what the words “in vain” mean. In the dictionary we find they mean, “to no avail, useless.” Therefore, we discover another meaning of the Second Commandment. The true blasphemy is to exchange the name-person of God with something useless, something with no sense and no life, something that does not offer salvation. For example: A Catholic uses different esoteric practices or joins different nondenominational communities. A person ignores church on Sunday morning and on holy days of obligation preferring to stay home and watch televison, surf the internet or attend a sporting event. A person disregards morning and evening prayers to use Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. These are just some examples of how easily we can exchange God for things that remove us from our time and life with Him.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, all of us have been baptized in the name of the Lord. All of us bear the seal of the Holy Spirit, so let us worthily live our lives according to our vocations — to be holy as our Lord is holy. Do not exchange God for things that do not offer life and salvation. God wants to enter into your life so that you may live it full of His love and tender mercy.