A Case for Holy Profanity
Gone are the days when talking to God was like talking to Aunt Judy at a tea party. God has always been ready for the uncut and unedited version of the outpourings of your heart. It is your duty and your privilege to give Him all you’ve got.
Most of our English translations of the Bible water down the raw nature of the original language, but some fun examples:
“Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8) is more precisely “Why this hell?” or, my preference, “What the hell?” The disciples here are talking like the redneck fishermen they are, questioning a woman’s apparent waste of high-end pefume on Jesus, rather than selling it to the poor. Jesus rebukes their hard-heartedness and short-sightedness, not their language.
Paul considers everything “rubbish” compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). But the word translated “rubbish” has some more precise, if more offense, possibilities. Skubalon is “that which is given forth from the bowels, or dung, as it were something thrown to dogs, or thrown out” (Etymologicum Gudianum, cf. Leithart). It is the possible root of our s-word and is at least as strong as “crap,” although “bullshit” works especially well in this context. But that won’t fly at any Bible publisher I know of.
Most importantly, there is an entire category of psalms known as “impreccatory psalms,” or, as I like to call them, “cussing psalms.” These psalms express frustration at the psalmists’ human enemies. I find it difficult to understand these psalms outside of a context of extreme language (see Psalm 3 post).
We use profanity in English do to a number of things. Some are God-sanctioned, some are not. On the plus side: expressions of extreme emotion and semantic intensity. On the minus side: intense insults, sexually explicity references, and blasphemy. American English’s broad, PG-13 umbrella covers far more ground than it does in most other languages, and restrains us in ways that it should not, especially in our interactions with the Almighty.
You already use profanity in your heart, even if you cover it up with euphemism (“shoot!” “dang!” “dag-nab-it!”). Isn’t it time you started using profanity in your prayers?