Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Greatest Sin

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7)

As I have reflected on the 9/11 attacks this ninth anniversary, as well as the controversy surrounding the “Ground Zero mosque” and the “burn a Koran day,” my belief that there is one sin that is worse than all other sins has been reinforced. That sin is committing evil in the name of God – evil defined as purposefully harming another human being.

The Commandment in Exodus 20:7, translated as, "Do not take/misuse the name of the Lord your God in vain," is imprecisely translated. The Hebrew verb literally reads, "Do not carry the name of the Lord your God in vain." And, the commandment continues, "for God will not hold guiltless whoever carries His name in vain.” It is the one sin that does not have the offer of forgiveness!

When a secular person commits evil they do not bring God into disrepute. When a person commits evil in God's name, however, they destroy the greatest hope for goodness to prevail on earth - widespread belief in a God who demands ethical goodness.

There is nothing as evil as religious evil. The Nazis were cruel, and so were the Communists, but they only sullied their own names, not the name of God. For example, the immense amount of evil being caused by those Muslims who slaughter innocents in the name of God is hurting God's reputation.

One can only pray that Muslim institutions will realize the damage done to the name of Allah and to Islam by those Muslims who preach or practice evil in the name of Allah and Islam - and the even greater damage done by the rest of the Islamic world's failure to protest against this evil by publicly announcing that evil preached or committed in the name of Allah and Islam is sin and its practitioners will go to hell, not to Paradise to be serviced by multiple virgins! For if there is a hell, those who murder and torture the innocent while praising God are surely the first to go there.

I remember when Islamists kidnapped a young lady who was a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. Before taking her picture, these men covered her head and her hands so that no female skin would be exposed. In their perverse thinking, God is more concerned with men being titillated by female skin than He is with kidnapping (not to mention beheadings and bombings).

This is why religious fundamentalism is twisted. The legalism that fundamentalism produces furthers the greatest sin – carrying the name of God in vain because it causes people to act unkind and even commit evil in the name of God.

Dennis Prager tells about a young man who attended a Jewish institute he once directed. When this young man first arrived at the institute, he was a kind and nonjudgmental person - and completely secular. After his month-long immersion in the Torah, he became a fully practicing Orthodox Jew.

A year later the young man was actually less kind and was aggressively judgmental of his fellow Jews, including those who had brought him to Judaism in the first place. In one year he had become, in his own eyes, holier than the teachers who brought him to religion in the first place. The religion's emphasis on legal observance enabled him to count the number of laws his fellow Jews did not observe and judge them accordingly. Over the course of my own ministry I have seen a number of new converts behave in this way.

Within Christianity, faith in Christ can lead one to live a life of extraordinary loving-kindness and self-sacrifice, but it can also, and has, led Christians to place so much emphasis on proper faith as to neglect equal emphasis on proper behavior.

When you evaluate your own beliefs and practices, ask yourself, “Has this belief or doctrine made me a better person?” or, “Has this belief or doctrine made me less kind, less compassionate, less rational, and more judgmental?” If your answer is the latter, it’s time to re-evaluate that belief. If not, you may be “carrying” God’s name in vain.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).