You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
– Exodus 20:7
I guess I can add this to the Bible Misunderstandings category. I say that because I always heard this commandment explained as not using God’s name as a swear word or something like that. While that is certainly something to avoid, the actual meaning of the verse holds more depth than that. The word commonly rendered as “vain” also means empty and can connote lying or just empty speech of other kinds.
This is the command Jesus was speaking about when He told people not to swear oaths at all because we typically break our oaths. If we make promises and invoke God’s character with phrases like “I swear on the Bible,” or “by God” or any other number of permutations, and find we are unable to keep them; that empties God’s name of meaning in the eyes of others. So don’t even do it, simple instruction from Jesus.
This came to mind when I was reading some sports stories last night and I saw some news about Coach Tressel from Ohio State. In full disclosure, I have never liked OSU very much and as a Razorback fan, my opinion didn’t go up any in the wake of the scandal that hit before the bowl game this past season. But Tressel has inadvertently provided an object lesson of the lesser realized meaning of this command, because suddenly there are people who are dragging God’s name through the mud a bit on his account.
For those who are unaware of college football goings on, several Ohio State players violated NCAA rules by selling merchandise for benefits and when the story broke last December, Tressel acted with complete surprise and shock and lobbied to allow these boys to play in the bowl game. Now, the truth is out that Tressel wasn’t caught off-guard in December; he had known about the problem since April of last year. Instead of taking responsibility, he ducked for cover until he could hide the truth no longer. He is now facing consequences for his own rule breaking as well, but some of you may now be asking, “how does this drag God’s name through the mud?”
Well, as I was reading stories about this new development, I came across this news item from a local media outlet. This article is making a case for why Tressel should be fired for his offenses and includes the following:
When Regular Joe with a normal job breaches his contract, he gets the boot.
So should The Vest.
“I am sorry and disappointed this happened,” Tressel said. “At the time the situation occurred, I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Doing the right thing? Surely a deeply religious man with a newly released book titled “Life Promises for Success: Promises from God on Achieving Your Best” knows the difference between right and wrong.
Or does he?
Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith, the highest-profile players of the Tressel era other than current Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were both suspended for accepting improper benefits. Tressel also had a player do the same thing at Youngstown State.
I didn’t know anything about Tressel being a Christian until I saw this. It may be that he doesn’t talk about his faith much (I don’t know), but he wrote a book and invoked God in the title. Now he has given cause for others to “empty the name of God” by his actions and his words. This isn’t Christian media citing the issue, it is the local school paper. I find it a little ironic that a secular media source is so keenly able to spot the problem here. This isn’t even a one time mistake, but appears to be a pattern of behavior. Let me be clear that it is not my intention to single Tressel out for ridicule or judgment. I am citing him because this is a textbook illustration of the point.
It was this same “emptying” of God’s name that won many condemnations for the nation of Israel back in the day as well. Jesus instructed us to hallow God’s name, which means to set it apart or keep it pure. Let us take heed to our Master’s words and be careful how we represent the name of God as the people of God.