Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Minced Oaths

Minced oaths are benign words or phrases with which we replace God's Name or even curse words. Some common ones include darn, gosh, heck, and shoot. Sugar, fudge, and dagnabbit are less common. Some others I grew up hearing were For Pete's sakeSo help me Hannah, and of course everybody knows For crying out loud! I also understand enough Spanish to know that when Latin Americans shout Wednesday! they're not always planning their week (miércoles shares its first four letters with a less savory word).

My personal favorite—and one that I use all the time—is Goodness gracious, or simply Goodness. This one is unique in that it uses one of God's main attributes in order to keep from breaking the Third Commandment. Though we're often told that God is good, Psalm 100:5 is one of the most straightforward verses in which the Bible states this.

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.  
✙ Ps 100:5 

And that Hebrew word (טוֹב) is just the regular word for good. There's no special super-good word for God's goodness. It's the same word they might use for Have a good day or even Happy New Year. For some reason, I find this odd. I think Jesus did, too. When the guy I think of as the Rich Young Ruler calls Jesus "Good Teacher," he answers by saying, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone" (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19). One of the messages here is that words mean something. We should think twice before we apply an adjective (whether good or bad) to another person.

Human beings were created in the image of God. If I think of someone (or myself) as good, am I thereby lifting up that part of them in which I see God's goodness? What if I give a sycophantic compliment to a leader with narcissistic personality disorder, am I deifying someone who will not honor God? And perhaps most importantly, if I insult someone, am I thereby insulting something that is of God? There really is something to be learned from minced oaths, then: If I fear using God's Name in vain, I should also be wary of using vain speech to either build up or tear down those created in the image of God.

Help me think before I speak, Lord; guide my tongue as a speak; and bless the ears that listen to me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer; and as my speech is intended to honor your image, may others assume the best of what I have said. I pray this in the Name of the One who perfectly reflected your goodness, who yet cautioned others before they thoughtlessly applied to him your attributes, even Jesus Christ, who taught me to pray...