The Third Commandment tells us we “shall not take the name of the Lord [our] God in vain.”1 This commandment flows right from the first two, which command us to “have no other gods before [Him]“2 and to have no idols of any kind.3
In the first part of this series, we discussed how the First Commandment gave a sense of order or hierarchy, a sense that we must give honor where honor is due. We mentioned how the recognition of our Creator provokes in us a response, a sense of gratitude, respect, and reverence.
It should come as no surprise then that we are to treat His name in the same light.
Since its founding, the United States of America has benefited immeasurably from careful adherence to this self-evident truth. Consider the words of John F. Kennedy, who said in 1961:
No man who enters upon the office to which I have succeeded can fail to recognize how every president of the United States has placed special reliance upon his faith in God. Every president has taken comfort and courage when told that the Lord ‘will be with thee. He will not fail thee nor forsake thee. Fear not – neither be thou dismayed.’ While they came from a wide variety of religious backgrounds and held a wide variety of religious beliefs, each of our presidents in his own way has placed a special trust in God. Those who were strongest intellectually were also strongest spiritually.4
But the power and truth of the Third Commandment goes much deeper. It highlights something that is as important as anything else for our Republic: the power of words.
The First and Second Commandments focus on doing (actions), the Third on saying (words). We must honor God in word and deed. Words have meaning, and weight, if you will. In fact, John 1:1 very interestingly refers to Jesus as “the Word”:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.5
Therefore, it makes sense that this is the main way God chose to communicate with us: through words.
Words have very real, concrete consequences. Those who choose to mock, or take the name of the Lord in vain, are not “just saying stuff.” The cost is real. The relationship between speech and reality is self-evident and undeniably powerful.
Consider the words of Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz:
The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment. I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.6
There you have the very powerful correlation of “mere words” and reality.
Our Founders recognized the power of words. The words of the Declaration of Independence changed the course of history. And their insistence on a written Constitution to guard against tyranny, difficult as that may seem, has proven wise. Thomas Jefferson talked about its importance:
Aware of the tendency of power to degenerate into abuse, the worthies of our country have secured its independence by the establishment of a Constitution and form of government for our nation, calculated to prevent as well as to correct abuse.7
As a self-evident truth though, this principle is not exclusive to us, but has been recognized throughout history. The power of the written word was key for the Achaemenid Empire, for example (“Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.”8), and on down the line we can go.
When we honor and respect our Lord as a nation, we reap the blessings as a nation. Those who ignore this self-evident truth do so at their own peril.
Almost all state constitutions acknowledge and show honor and respect to God. Here is a small sample:
We, the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance, do ordain and establish this Constitution.9
We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution.10
We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution.11
We, the People of the State of Illinois – grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He has permitted us to enjoy and seeking His blessing upon our endeavors – in order to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the people; maintain a representative and orderly government; eliminate poverty and inequality; assure legal, social and economic justice; provide opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; insure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; and secure the blessings of freedom and liberty to ourselves and our posterity – do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of Illinois.12
We, the people of the State of Washington, grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties, do ordain this constitution.13
One cannot ignore these, and the many other examples, when considering the blessings we have enjoyed as a nation. And we must wonder what the result would have been if they were not put in place. Even those who express the most vocal opposition to this Commandment do so by standing on the very freedoms that come as a result of strict adherence to it.
- Exodus 20:7, New King James Version (NKJV).
- See “Self-Evident Truths Part I: No Other Gods Before Me.”
- See “Self-Evident Truths Part II: No Idols of Any Kind.”
- The American Patriot’s Bible, 1395 (Richard G. Lee ed., Thomas Nelson 2009).
- John 1:1 (NKJV).
- Viktor E. Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy,” xxvii (Vintage 1986).
- Thomas Jefferson to Washington Tammany Society, 1809.
- Daniel 6:17 (NKJV).
- PA CONST. pmbl., emphasis mine.
- NJ CONST. pmbl., emphasis mine.
- CA CONST. pmbl., emphasis mine.
- IL CONST. pmbl., emphasis mine.
- WA CONST. pmbl., emphasis mine.