A YOUNG boy was taught the Lord’s Prayer. His proud parents asked him to recite the prayer when their pastor visited them. He did well except that he inadvertently said, “Hollowed be thy name.” The adults had a good laugh.
This mistake caused by childhood innocence and ignorance points us to realities about which we cannot afford to laugh. In real life, there is often a hollowing out of God’s name in so many different ways. Sometimes it is very deliberate. For instance, the German metal band Mob Rules is known for its song “Hollowed be thy name.” It is a parody of the Lord’s Prayer. Alas, there are many Christians who are guilty of the same. They may not do it deliberately in open defiance of God, but they produce the same results through spiritual neglect and ignorance.
To hollow out God’s name is to drain the life-giving content out of God’s name. It is to end up with a form of godliness without its power (2 Tim. 3:5). It results in a wasteland of lifeless idols made to serve eager consumers thirsting for security and happiness, pleasure and plenty. If God left us to our fate and condemned us to perish with our distorted and anemic notions of Him, we cannot fault Him. But He acted otherwise. It is to this world of hollowed-out icons that Christ came to show us who our Creator God is. He brought back the content into our depleted ideas of God.
When we believe in Christ, we are baptised in the name of the Triune God. And we are called to live and thrive in that name. Alas, for many Christians, the name is hollowed out in no time. A faith that is sustained only by emotions, a neglect of the careful study of the Bible and Christian doctrine, and a self-centred approach to Christian living are some reasons for this.
Some people think that Christian doctrine and truth are not important as long as one gets some kind of memorable spiritual experience. This is one way to hollow out God’s name. After all, did not Jesus teach that God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24)? It can be argued that the whole purpose of the Christian life is to cure us of our idolatries, to remove the bankrupt images and empty names of God that fill the hearts and minds of people. Paul’s prayer for his fellow Christians was that they will grow into maturity till Christ is formed in them (Gal. 4:19). That envisions Christians carrying in their hearts a full and rich image and name of God.
The ancient Israelites, or at least those who were godly, treated the name of the Lord with great reverence. The third commandment forbade the careless and irreverent use of God’s name. The scribes who copied the Scriptures, and that was the only way they could produce new copies, trembled whenever they came across the name of God — YHWH (Yahweh).
Readers who read the Scriptures used the substitute word Adonai (Lord) to avoid using God’s name. Perhaps this reluctance to use God’s name came from the fear of abusing that name. Also in ancient worlds, it was believed that when you pronounce the name of someone or something, that person is under your control or authority.
In family life, we still avoid addressing our parents by name. We are horrified if a child addresses his parents the way he does his friends. It appears that we have some innate sense of reverence in our cultures.
To hallow God’s name is to have reverence for Him. The word “hallow” means “to set apart.” To hallow God’s name is therefore to treat it as very special. We are not to trivialise God. We are indeed guilty if we use God’s name flippantly and worship God superficially.
There was a series of advertisements with messages purportedly from God. While it might have seemed as a clever way of doing evangelism at first thought, I think such practices do tend to trivialise God. They give licence to people to put down their thoughts and sign off as God.
Or take the practice of giving a round of applause to God, a practice that has spread to many parts (including very remote areas) of the world. Is this a movement of the Holy Spirit? Or the result of a globalisation of worship forms through the marketing of Christian music, worship leading styles and CDs? I believe that many who applaud God in public worship are sincere Christians wanting to glorify God. But we need to think more deeply about such things.
We applaud whenever we appreciate someone or something. It has become so common in everyday secular life that now when people want to show they really appreciate, they stand to applaud, a practice that will become so common place that new expressions of sincere appreciation will have to be found. But that is the problem. Applause is an indication of appreciation. The audience appreciates the performer. The one who claps is the patron. However, in God’s presence, we are called to do far more than merely appreciate. We are to worship and revere God, fall at His feet, and tremble in His presence.
When I pointed this out to a group of Indian believers, I reminded them of a better way in their own culture. When they stand in front of deity, they bring their hands together silently, in reverence. A more excellent way of showing humility and reverence in God’s presence, if you ask me.
We can develop such attitudes if we resist tendencies to domesticate God, trying to shape God to fit our superficially triumphalistic and self-crowning agendas rather than allowing Him to shape us to fit His agenda, which often includes suffering and sacrifice. We must realise that we cannot control God, that He is a God of mystery, vastly bigger and holier than we can imagine.
To trivialise God’s name is to serve a weightless god. Such a pet god produces petty people. The God of the Bible is different. He is truly set apart. He is a class of His own. Let us live in His presence, with awe, reverence, humility and love. May we hallow His name and follow His path. May others who observe us realise that we worship One whose name is a deep ocean of holy truth and love.
A CLASS OF HIS OWN
‘To trivialise God’s name is to serve a weightless god. Such a pet god produces petty people. The God of the Bible is different. He is truly set apart. He is a class of His own.’