Cussing at God

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?

Published in: on July 6, 2007 at 8:39 am  Comments (6)  

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  1. Ecclesiastes 5
    1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.

    Be Very Very Careful when interpreting & Isogesis.
    Revelation 22
    18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

  2. Job 1
    20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
    “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.
    The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
    may the name of the LORD be praised.”

    22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

    Job 2
    9 His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

    10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
    In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

  3. In context, Ecclesiastes 5 deals with making vows to God. We should not make vows to God that we are unable to fulfill. Still, there is great truth, applicable to all of our dealings with the Almighty, in the fact that we must take him seriously.

    However, we must also take Him personally. To live a life of faith is to live in the tension of taking God seriously and taking Him personally. Why do we hold back when we come to the Lord in prayer? Why are some of us tempted to speak to God the way we’d speak to an old British woman, but not to a friend, much less to the Lord Ruler of the universe?

    My target audience: people, like myself, who are cussing anyway. My goal: to encourage all of us to use the same language with God that we use with our most intimate friends. I apologize for not making that more clear.

    Revelations 22 is about adding to God’s Word in general and to the words of that prophecy in particular. I purport to do no such thing.

    (And I take exegesis very seriously. That’s why I read the New Testament in the original Greek.)

    There is an important distinction between cussing at God and cursing God (Job 1-2). To use intense language toward God, even in prayer and in lamentation, is very different from using the Lord’s name carelessly (in vain). We have permission to be angry at God. But to hate God or to ignore Him are two very different things from mere anger. The day will come, when it hasn’t already, when the only thing to say, to your friends, to yourself, to your Lord: “Life is %@$#ed up. God, help me!”

  4. Hhhmmm, an interesting discussion.

    There is also a euphemism found in the Samuel books, something about “pissing against a wall” in reference to an enemy of David I believe… meaning it would be fruitless, like “spitting in the wind.”

  5. Let me know if you find the reference verses on that one. I did a quick search and could not find it (though I don’t doubt that it’s there). My Hebrew also leaves something to be desired.

    But I did find a layman’s list of euphemisms in the Bible, _most_ of which make a lot of sense:

  6. […] is a response to previous comments.  This deserves book-length treatment and if anyone (i.e., me) gets into trouble on this one, it […]

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