PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — God’s Name Is Not A Tool For Our Benefit

I must admit to being bemused by the hypocrisy of people who claim the name of Christ who have looked the other way the past four years but are horrified over the use of a vulgar word by a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s staff.

I don’t condone calling anyone names. It is wrong, and I don’t think it is helpful in seeking to build bridges. But the piety condemning it is so misguided.

As I always teach my confirmands when we talk about “Thou Shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain,” there is a difference between vulgarity and profanity. Vulgarity is what people often think is sin — saying “four-letter words.” It is crass and debasing, but it is not sin.

What is sin is profanity that focuses on using the Lord’s name. As Martin Luther said in the Small Catechism, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie or deceive using God’s name but instead use that very name to call upon it in every trouble, pray to, praise and give thanks to God.”

In other words, the sin is to use God’s name to have power over other people, to defend lies or for your own purposes and advancement. God’s name is not a tool for our own benefit, and piety that uses it as such is making a god of oneself.  God is not mocked nor amused by hypocrisy. When we, in the name of God, judge someone as lesser, or as not being worthy or made in the image of God, that is when we offend God as being profane.

Perhaps we would do better to be offended by how those in the shadows, who are lost and forgotten, are treated rather than by the use of vulgar words. That is what really offends God.

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