The Mailbag: When is OMG a 3CV?

Originally published February 11, 2019

Is it wrong for people to exclaim “Oh my G-d” in various situations? I have heard it said casually as well as in response to a tragedy or cry for protection. I would assume that it could be taking the Lord’s name in vain in certain circumstances (e.g. Oh my G–, look at that cute kitten!) but not in others. How can I discern when it is used correctly in ambiguous situations?

That’s a great question since this phrase and its initials (OMG) are used so frequently in real life, on TV, on social media, in books… it’s everywhere! Bless you for wanting your speech to honor the Lord!

A couple of explanatory points before I give my answer:

I’m including the initials OMG because when people see or hear those initials, they understand it to mean “Oh my G–!”. I’ve heard a few Christians say that when they use the letters OMG, in their minds, the “G” stands for gosh or goodness. That’s great, but that’s not what the overwhelming majority of other people think when they see or hear those letters, and they can’t read your mind, so that’s not what it means to them.

The third commandment (taking God’s name in vain) is not limited to this phrase and its initials. There are many ways to misuse God’s name: profanity or offhand phrases (ex: “Good L-rd!”) that include any of the Trinity’s names, taking a vow or oath in God’s name flippantly and/or not keeping it, misrepresenting God or His Word to others, etc. However, the reader is asking only about this particular phrase, so I will simply answer the question she asked.

The third Commandment is:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Exodus 20:7

Let’s start with a fast and dirty rule of thumb in case that’s what you need: in today’s society in general, this phrase/initials are virtually always used in a way that takes God’s name in vain.

There are only a couple of instances I can think of in which using this phrase is not taking God’s name in vain, and I rarely even hear them in church, let alone on the street, on TV, etc. (Readers, if you can think of others, please comment and let us know.)

There are several verses of Scripture in various books of the Bible that contain the phrase, “O my God”. (I found it interesting that Nehemiah was fond of that phrase, as were the psalmists. Those two books contain the most verses with that phrase.) Here are a couple of examples:

Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
Nehemiah 5:19

O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.
Psalm 25:2

If you’ll examine all of these verses you might notice a few things about the way this phrase is used in Scripture that sets it apart from the way this phrase is normally used today.

First, this phrase is used to address God directly. The people saying or writing this phrase in Scripture are talking to God, not using God’s name as an exclamatory (like we would use the words Wow! or Cool!) without giving Him any thought at all.

Second, this phrase is used reverently and worshipfully. It is used to honor God and the fullness of His nature and character, not, as you mentioned, to exclaim over kittens or some other paltry earthly happening.

Third, this phrase is used in the context of prayer, much the same way we would reverently address God in prayer with phrases like “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father”.

(One more thing that might be of interest to my fellow grammar nerds: When you see the phrase in Scripture, it always starts with “O”. When you see it written in the common exclamatory usage, it always starts with “Oh”. That’s not an accident. It’s meant to set apart the two discrete usages. Read more here.)

So the first scenario I can think of in which saying “O my God” would not be taking God’s name in vain would be things like: if you are quoting one of these passages, singing a worship song that either quotes one of these passages or uses the phrase in the same way in which it’s used in these passages, or if your pastor uses this phrase in his sermon or prayer in the same way in which it is used in Scripture.

The second scenario is similar: If you feel comfortable using this phrase in your own private prayer time by using it in the same way in which it’s used in Scripture – speaking directly, reverently, and worshipfully to God in prayer – there’s nothing sinful or unbiblical about that.

I would discourage the use of this phrase in public prayer, though, because it could confuse the people who hear it, causing them to think you’re breaking the third Commandment even if you aren’t. Additionally, if they hear you using that phrase in prayer with no explanation they may think you’re using it in the common (OMG!) way and assume that since you’re using it in prayer it’s OK for them to use that phrase in any situation. Sadly, most people are probably not familiar with the proper, reverent way this beautiful phrase is used in Scripture.

For more on this topic, check out Cussing, Profanity, and OMG on A Word Fitly Spoken:

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.