In the aisle of a neighborhood store, a 3-year-old caught my attention. I heard him before I saw him. From the height of his father's knees, he mirrored the irony of a generation which, while attempting to remove the name of God from public life, has developed an obsession with profanity.
I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap as a child for repeatedly using similar words at the dinner table. Later in my high school years, I spoke the forbidden language among friends in an awkward adolescent rite of passage.
But the problem is not locked in the past. On occasion I still catch myself expressing feelings of self-contempt, frustration, or anger in silent or muffled profanity. I cringe at the thought of letting such words and emotions slip out in public. I'm fearful when I hear stories of how the most unlikely people have been known to "swear like a trooper" (or "swear like a sailor"-editor) when coming out of surgical anesthesia.
Where does this profane impulse come from? Why say, "Jesus," "God", "damn", and "hell"? Why combinations of holy cow, holy Moses, or holy smoke? (Or holy Mary-editor) Why not the names of politicians, entertainers, or athletes? And what is the emotional draw that has inspired a whole series of sound-alike "darn" and "gol darn", "gees" and "gee whiz"? Why do those who know enough not to say the real thing still feel a need to exclaim "for Gripes sake", "Judas Priest", "oh my gosh", or "what the heck"? A dictionary of slang shows that to use such phrases is, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to flirt with profanity.
Profanity doesn't just happen. It is rooted in the darkness of fallen human nature (Romans 3:9-14) “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; (10) As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: (11) There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. (12) They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (13) Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: (14) Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:”
In a twisted way, it does something for us. Their aggressive or careless use of "damn", or "hell", or "God" expresses feelings of anger, anxiety, or arrogance. They are aggressive words, which express the opposite of submission, or the touch of grace. They show our latent desire to achieve dominance not only over the restraints of social custom, but over the One who has told us not to misuse His name (Exodus 20:7) 'Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."1
Profane impulses are red flags of the soul. They never signal a submissive relationship to the Father. They never show grace. And in my case, the near-miss substitutes such as "heck" or "darn" never reflect a good awareness of the presence of God.
Father, thank You for being so patient and full of mercy. It is because we see and believe so poorly that we speak so carelessly. If we could see You as clearly as Isaiah did, we would say with much greater emotion, "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." Isaiah 6:5.
1 Editor - This more accurately refers to claiming to be of God and under His name rather than using God's name profanely. Use of God's name as profanity could more appropriately be called blasphemy instead of profanity. Either is an abomination to God. END