Hijacking God’s Name: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 36


  1. What is required in the third commandment?

That we must not by cursing,1 or by false swearing,2 nor yet by unnecessary oaths,3 profane or abuse the name of God; nor even by our silence and connivance be partakers of these horrible sins in others; and in summary, that we use the holy name of God in no other way than with fear and reverence,4 so that He may be rightly confessed5 and worshiped6 by us, and be glorified in all our words and works.7

[1] Lev. 24:10–16. [2] Lev. 19:12. [3] Matt. 5:37; Jas. 5:12. [4] Isa. 45:23. [5] Matt. 10:32.

[6] 1 Tim. 2:8. [7] Rom. 2:24; 1 Tim. 6:1; Col. 3:16–17; *1 Pet. 3:15.


  1. Is the profaning of God’s name, by swearing and cursing, so grievous a sin that His wrath is kindled against those also who do not help as much as they can to hinder and forbid it?

Yes, truly,1 for no sin is greater and more provoking to God than the profaning of His name; wherefore He even commanded it to be punished with death.2

[1] Lev. 5:1 [2] Lev. 24:15–16; *Lev. 19:12; *Prov. 29:24–25.

Hijacking God’s Name

The issue of taking the Lord’s name in vain is often sadly relegated to a fairly minor issue, mainly because the issue is not well understood.

In the first place, people often do not appreciate how grave an offense it is to misuse the name of God.  The “name” of God is not just a phonetic symbol that identifies Him, as our names so often are.  The name of God is the way that He reveals Himself to mankind, as for example when He refers to Israel as the people on whom He has put His name (as in Numbers 6:27) or in Deuteronomy 12:5 where the people of Israel are told to offer their sacrifices in the place where God puts His name.  That’s not referring merely to a place named after God; many of the cities in Israel were named after God in one way or another.  It refers to the place where God reveals Himself, or in other words Jerusalem.  Israel is the people to whom and through whom God reveals Himself.

The word “vain” in the commandment means “empty” or “without purpose.”  When a man uses the name of God in an empty or frivolous manner, he lies about who God is.  In doing so, he attacks the very purpose for which God made him.  Man is made in the image of God, that is, to reveal God and reflect His nature.  This is the purpose for the whole universe, and most of all for man as the pinnacle of God’s creation.  So when man corrupts that revelation with lies or foolish talking, God will not take that lightly.  Our tendency to downplay the importance of words is reflected in the commandment itself, which includes a stern warning.

So, using God’s name as an exclamation or a foolish curse is a crime against His dignity and majesty.  Ironically, men use these kinds of expressions to add force to their words, showing their awareness of the importance of the name even as they misuse it and misappropriate it for their own purposes.

Imagine, for example, if someone created a fake profile on Facebook or Pinterest or some other social media platform, using your name, and then used that profile to say all sorts of horrible things about other people that did not reflect your own views.  Would you not be greatly offended and angered?  But is this not exactly what we do when we say, “God damn it” or some equivalent expression?  Am I not using the great power of God’s name to add force to what I want to say?  And in doing so, I empty God’s name of any real content, so that it no longer possesses any force.   God created this world to speak into it.  It is a great crime for wicked men to try to hijack His self-revelation for their own wicked selfish ends.

Secondly, the issue of taking God’s name goes far beyond what we describe as swearing or cursing.  It is any use of God’s name in a light or frivolous manner.  It happens when people call themselves Christians despite having no commitment to Christ.  It happens when people air their speculations about who God is.  It happens when people worship God and sing songs of praise to Him with no corresponding sincerity or integrity in their heart.  All of this is taking the Lord’s name lightly and with no substance, and as question 100 says, it is such a grievous offense against God that He commands it to be punished with death.  The command only recognizes the reality of the thing; someone that perverts and misuses the revelation of God simply forfeits his right to exist, since revealing and glorifying God was the reason God made us in the first place.  It is the equivalent of a messenger who is sent by the king with a message, and upon arriving at his destination says, “Thus says the king,” and then makes up a message rather than giving the message the king gave him.  Any messenger caught doing that would quickly be relieved of his head in a day when people took authority more seriously than they do today.

It is a great thing to take the name of God upon myself.  If I say I am a Christian, or a follower or disciple of Jesus, or a child of God or a worshiper of God or any equivalent expression, I am claiming something very weighty for myself.  But God will not be made to serve me; He will not allow His name and His revelation to be drafted to serve my ends.  He always serves His own ends alone.  Thus the heart of the commandment is always using the name of God with fear and reverence, recognizing that He is sovereign and I am the subject; He rules me, never the other way around.  The goal is, according to the Catechism, to confess and worship God rightly, with words that have truth, substance and sincerity behind them, so that the truth of God is properly revealed in all that we say.