We’ve been talking a lot on the blog about emotional maturity and its importance. And part of that is the whole “God language” issue.
It’s Joanna on the blog today! Joanna is my intrepid stats person and co-author of The Great Sex Rescue, who is busy helping me analyze the results to our MEN’S sex & marriage survey we’re conducting right now (Are you a married guy? Take it right here!). A transplant from Pittsburgh, she lived in my neck of the woods in Ontario until COVID hit and erased her husband’s job. They recently moved up to the Canadian Arctic (yes, really) where her husband is a lawyer for the government of Nunavut.
Joanna was taken by my first article on God language and emotional maturity, and we’ve been FaceTiming this back and forth, and she asked to write down a few of her thoughts today.
In English history, King Henry VIII was desperate for a son and heir to the throne. His dynasty was pretty tenuous from a legitimacy perspective, and the prospect of an heir to ensure the succession was of the utmost importance to him. After 20 years of marriage to Catherine of Aragon and with zero sons living past infancy, Henry decided to divorce her… but he needed justification. He ended up finding a random verse in Leviticus that he felt proved that his marriage was cursed and illegitimate. The pope didn’t agree and so Henry split from papal authority and started the church of England.
Henry VIII was a brutal, monstrous man. When he used Leviticus to “justify” his divorce, he was also breaking the third commandment. He took God’s name in vain.
Now, if you’re anything like me, the way we were taught about the third commandment is that it’s pretty much the easiest of the 10 to keep.
Don’t say OMG and you’re good, right? That’s what “taking God’s name in vain” means.
Except that’s totally and completely wrong.
According to the fabulous Bible Story Handbook by Dr. John Walton, taking God’s name in vain actually means “don’t abuse God’s name for your own benefit.” He adds that “we violate this commandment when we … present our thoughts as the Word of God.”
That hits close to home. And it’s definitely something I need to be on guard against.
God language often gets used in Christian circles to shut down conversation, prevent criticism, avoid emotional involvement, avoid difficult conversations, and generally manipulate people.
And all of those ways are taking God’s name in vain.
I think this has always “been a thing” as it were. That’s literally why there’s a commandment for that. Wouldn’t be there if it weren’t an issue!
But how does this manifest particularly in today’s day and age? Here’s what I realized recently:
My two-year-old is entirely obsessed with The Sound of Music. It’s adorable and I’m happy to have Julie Andrews on repeat in our little apartment. Anyway, I hadn’t listened to the music in awhile when I first put it on for her and I was, frankly, terrifically surprised when I relistened to “Climb Every Mountain.” I expected it to be song that would really speak to me, about doing what it takes to do the right thing. But it wasn’t. Instead, Mother Abbess tells Maria to “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow til you find your dream.”
And then she describes the dream and what it will take *Maria* to achieve. But she doesn’t talk about duty or family or making a better world. Or any of it. It’s just “follow your dream.”
Watch most Disney movies and you’ll get the same plot. Following “your dreams” is the highest value.
In today’s parlance, Henry VIII had a dream to have a son and he followed it. Disney films don’t include the idea of collateral damage, but Henry clearly inflicted plenty. And collateral damage is a pretty much guaranteed byproduct of unfettered ambition.
Now, of course, having goals and dreams is a great thing! I certainly have them and they’ve helped get me to where I am today in my life. But there’s a difference between having goals and holding them with open hands, allowing providence and life to shape them and an all out, tight-fisted sprint towards “my dream.” And, if I’m honest, the “climb every mountain” chorus sounds a lot more like the latter.
Jesus didn’t call us to go out and “do big things” on his behalf. He called us to be faithful.
And he called us to follow HIM not our dreams. And one thing I’ve noticed about a lot of folks who overuse God language is that they specifically use it to make their “dreams come true.”
I want to be a race car driver or a pop star? “God is calling me to that” shuts down conversation and lets me follow my dreams, no matter how foolish, selfish, or silly they might be.
Ultimately, it can turn dreams into gods of our own making. And it prevents us from getting wise counsel.
My husband and I are making some big decisions right now and I’ll be honest, it’s quite challenging. We don’t have the same preferences when it comes to some massive choices and that’s just plain tricky. We’re trying to navigate it as best as we can while also recognizing that we aren’t making any final decisions now. It’s just an ongoing conversation. And so, when one of us has a new thought or realization, we open up the discussion again. We often spend an hour or two talking over things while looking at our fake fire and holding our newborn. And we’re doing the things we need to do to help us make the decisions as best as we can – annoying “adult” things like dealing with banking issues. Ultimately, one of us is going to get their way and one of us isn’t. And we are both SUPER aware of the fact that the danger here is that whoever doesn’t get their way could resent the spouse who does. There are upsides and downsides to both choices and so we are trying to be faithful to the decision-making process and to each other.
As I’ve been writing this post I realized how dehumanizing it would feel to me if my husband said, “my way is the right way! God told me so!” Instead of an intimate and life-giving conversation about what our short-term and long-term goals are, I would feel shut down. Honestly, I think I’d struggle mightily with resentment because I wouldn’t have been heard.
If that’s your story, I’m so terribly sorry. And if you’re tempted to use God language to justify your own desires and get your way, remember: there’s a commandment for that.
What do you think? Have you ever thought of “using the Lord’s name in vain” in this context? How do we avoid this? Let’s talk in the comments!
Emotional Maturity Series:
- What is Emotional Maturity?
- Do We Use God Language to Enable Emotional Immaturity?
- What To Do When Your Spouse is Stonewalling
- 6 Ways to Grow in Emotional Maturity
- What Does Emotional Maturity Look Like? (Podcast)
- A Book List to Help You with Emotional Maturity
- Do Christian Resources Promote Emotional Immaturity (Especially in Men)?
- God Language and Emotional Maturity Part 2
- Can We Talk About How Porn and Emotional Immaurity Are Related?
- What if Emotional Maturity is a Skill We Can Learn?
And check out 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage--my book that covers emotional maturity. Plus there's a FREE group study you can take with it!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Blog Contributor & Co-Author on the upcoming The Great Sex Rescue!
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