Like, that, God, Christ, damn, whatever. What do you feel as you read these words? What do they have in common? For most of us, we have a very neutral reaction. Even “hard” words like shit barely register any reaction. These words, like many others, are overused and unskillfully used. Words are slowly losing their meaning as we use them against their original meaning and context. People use christ as an expletive which is the same thing as yelling “President!” or “Sir!” when you stub your toe. Christ is a title. It makes little sense to use it in any other way. It’s the same thing as when people use the word Jesus as an expletive. Jesus is just another word for Joshua. So they are yelling Joshua! Rather silly.
“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.” Exodus 20:7
Most of us think this means we shouldn’t use phrases like “goddamn” and God or Christ as expletives. We miss the main danger of this ancient lesson: overuse and unskillful use. God, Christ, Elohim, hallelujah, Jesus, El, YHWH, Jehovah, and others mean very little today. In the commandment the word “vain” means: Producing no result; useless. Why are they useless? They are used unskillfully, yes, but mostly they are used too much! We hear people talking about God all the time. The more a word is used the less meaning it has; the less impact. “Jehovah” should give us a sense of awe (another over used word that has lost meaning) and wonder. Rather we react like we are talking about a neighbor or a friend.
Jesus is also over used. He is talked about too often! Rarity is how words retain their impact and meaning. Consider this phrase to people never heard of Jesus: “Have you heard about the man Jesus the Messiah?” They would be interested since the name and the title are not used. They sound grand. Modern people feel like rolling their eyes. Certainly Jesus and His message need to be shared and discussed. It is just far too public and common. He is plastered all over the media and rarely in His true message of compassion. He has been diluted.
Hallelujah is a joyous word; rarely should we use it. Moments of hallelujah level joy are rare; they are the moments we survive something catastrophic or life changing. No, I don’t mean life changing like we are led to think. Life changing as in events that leave us permanently change to the core of our being. Listen to how hallelujah is used in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in Symphony #9. THAT is the only joy we should feel when using it.
And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:36- 37.
Like the 3rd commandment, Jesus is telling us to mean what we say. Do not use words vainly, uselessly. Swearing by your head is silly because it doesn’t mean anything! Likewise the idea holds with using God, douche, awesome, like, that, and other words so they mean nothing. What we say should have meaning and purpose. Words should only be used properly in context.
The wise don’t speak very often because their words hold meaning.
A Zen saying sums up this idea of vain words rather nicely:
“Say nothing, unless it improves silence.”