The dictionary defines “expletives” as “words with no meaning.” They are those words we blurt out as our impromptu expressions of pain, joy, frustration, or surprise. They are words fueled by our emotions and not our intellect. They may not “have meaning,” in the sense that they don’t intelligently add to the conversation, but they sure do speak volumes about us.
Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt.12:34). And it’s not hard to see what fills the heart of the average person in our culture. The world’s expletives include a range of foul, degrading, crude and rude verbal belches which, the Bible says, have no place among God’s people (Eph.5:3-4). Clearly in the world “the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart (Lk.6:45), but we are called to not allow “any unwholesome talk [to] come out of our mouths” (Eph.4:29). A new heart makes this possible. For most followers of Christ, the absence of such obscenities is a basic characteristic of repentance and a new spiritual life.
But the world has another set of expletives. They are religious. They are words of great importance to the Christian faith which have been hijacked for people’s emotional outbursts. They are weighty words originally designed by God to stir the hearts and minds of his children to worship and service. Of course, when they are used as expletives (expressions “without meaning”) they do just the opposite of what God intended. These words include the title of our Creator, Judge and King – “God.” They also include the name of his Son who suffered and died for our redemption – “Jesus Christ.” And interestingly, they include one of the fundamental motives for Christian service – “Hell” (cf. 2Cor.5:10-11; Heb.10:30-31).
When the world punctuates their sentences with expressions like “Oh my God!” or “What the Hell?” they are doing far more damage than we might first imagine. Stubbing one’s toe and blurting out the words “Jesus Christ” could hardly be more offensive to our holy God. This “name above every name” (Phil.2:9) is a call to contrite and humble worship (see Phil.2:10-11), and not a colorful way to express one’s pain and anger. So concerned was God that people never heap up the condemnation that will inevitably come with using his name “in vain” (i.e., “without meaning” – the very definition of an “expletive”), that he placed it as “rule #4” on his list of Ten Commandments (Ex.20:7). And consider the use of the word “Hell.” Here is the very thing that should cause every human to stop and soberly evaluate their relationship with their Maker, but instead the word has been made trite and inane because you can hear it as the verbal garnish with everything from an ambitious “yes” to a disgusted “no.”
By the way, can you see the spiritual battle against the truth of Christianity in all of this? You’ll be hard pressed to find the words “Buddha,” “Allah,” “Nirvana,” “Muhammad” or “Joseph Smith” used as expletives. These words are carefully avoided. While the verbal pacesetters in our culture will say “they never gave it any thought” you can be sure it is no coincidence that the favored religious expletives are aimed at Christianity and not some other religious movement. It’s true, “our battle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph.6:12).
While many Christians would be quick to say they don’t use such terms, we would be wise to rethink our use of “sound alike” euphemisms that are so rampant among God’s people. A “euphemism” is defined as “a less offensive synonym.” While we may feel we have sidestepped offending God because we write “OMG” or say “Oh my Gosh” instead of “Oh my God” I suspect our Creator may not be as tolerant as we would hope. With such a concern from God regarding the “without meaning” use of his name, perhaps we should seek to get as far away from such usage, rather than attempt to get as close as possible without actually saying it. What really compels us to say “Oh my Gosh” or to write “OMG”? Is it our insatiable desire to “fit in” and sound as much like “everybody else” as we can without technically breaking the rules? What’s the point?
Can’t we as God’s people drop the “Jeeezz” and the “Gosh” and thoughtfully consider some entirely different expletives that express our surprise or amazement? It’s understandable when Ty Pennington remodels your house that you want to “ooouuu” and “ahhhh”, but wouldn’t we be better off (and avoid every form, mode or appearance of evil – 1Th.5:22), if we chose to blurt out the name of our fourth grade teacher, our tax preparer or our pet Rottweiler? Wouldn’t we do better if, instead of sounding like we are using our God’s name in vain, we were using any of the other thousands of words or sounds that could be used in such a setting? Do we really have to mindlessly follow the world’s bad and sinful habits in our verbal practices?
For those who say, “I just never thought about it,” maybe it is time we do. There is so much in Scripture about the accountability we will face regarding the use of our words. Not the least of which is Christ’s poignant reminder: “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Mt.12:36). I understand it is very difficult to change our verbal patterns (Jms.3:1-12), but I believe we are making a stand for holiness and propriety when we do (1Pt.1:15-16).
So the next time you stub your toe, or find yourself overwhelmed with surprise or disgust, if you must say something, be innovative. It would be better if we blurted out our own names, than spurting forth an obscenity or something that sounds like one of the names of our Triune God!