Whether it’s the actual phrase “Oh my God!,” its text equivalent “OMG” or a substitution such as “Oh my gosh!”, at some point, all of us have probably uttered a phrase that is perceived by many to be blasphemous. And if we haven’t, we’ve probably heard someone that we would consider a spiritual heavyweight say it in passing, which made our ears perk up a little.
Those who use the phrase deny any wrongdoing. They’ll say, “Oh, it was an accident,” say that they meant no disrespect, or possibly even be ignorant of the fact that it came out of their mouth in the first place. I would bet most of us fall into the last of those scenarios – using God’s name in vain in such a casual manner that we barely even realize it happened.
What Does “Oh My God” Mean?
It’s kind of ironic that in a largely secularized society, an expression like “Oh my God” would even find its way into our everyday vernacular in the first place. Why do people who don’t care about God use His name as a slang word? A double irony exists when you consider that 75% of Americans claim to be part of a Christian faith, and yet they throw His name around like it’s meaningless.
Even though the Old Testament is not in effect anymore (Romans 7:6), we can answer the question of whether or not “Oh my God” is a bad word by looking at God’s attitude towards it. The third commandment states His feelings very clear: “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” By the way, the two commandments that preceded it – “You shall have no other gods before Me” and “You shall have no other idols” – speak to the reverence that God demands for His name, and His name alone (Ex. 20:3-7; ref. also Ezekiel 39:7). Jews both then and now hold the name of God as so reverent that they avoid saying it at all costs.
I’ve heard people argue that God’s point with the third commandment was not to restrict God’s name from being used carelessly, but to keep man from invoking God’s name as an oath. Jesus did discuss this idea in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37), but the idea of taking God’s name “in vain” doesn’t mean rendering His witness as worthless, it means rendering His name as worthless. That’s a completely different concept.
All throughout the Old Testament, God demands His name to be glorified, magnified, and holy (Psalm 29:2; 1 Chronicles 16:10). When we use His name as a way to express shock at a missed field goal or Grandma’s famous chicken salad, it takes His name from the heavens and likens it to leftovers in the fridge.
What to Say Instead of “Oh My God”
If it’s not “Oh my God” or “OMG,” then it’s usually a euphemism like “Oh my word” or “oh my goodness.” We use these words in place of the actual words we want to use because they sound “less offensive” to the casual hearer.
The problem is that people don’t hear that word, they hear the word you really want to use. When I hear someone say “Jeez,” I don’t hear the word “Jeez” (mainly because it’s not really a word), I hear the word “Jesus.” So does everyone else. And in their ears, you’re still undermining the significance of God’s holy name.
So what can you use instead of OMG? How about saying “Wow” or “No way” or – to borrow a line from Marty McFly – “This is heavy!” I don’t care what you use, honestly; the variations are up to you. What’s important is to identify the fact that using God’s name carelessly is a sin, even if we don’t consider it much when it passes by our lips.
Consider the example of Nadab and Abihu, two sons of the High Priest who apparently didn’t think it was a big deal that they used “strange fire” in the sacrifices of God. God disagreed, sending fire from the Heavens to incinerate them inside of two heartbeats.
Will God strike you down in a similar way? Thankfully not, as I’m guilty of this type of infraction on more than one occasion. It should call our attention to a very significant type of problem, and one that can damage our understanding of God and our influence with the people around us.Last modified: December 5, 2023