"Jesus Christ!" - A Naughty Way to Use a Holy Name
Jesus asked them, "Who do people say that I am?" If he were to ask us this same question we would certainly have to include the casual use of the Messiah's name for means of communicating frustration. Stub your toe? "Jesus!" is an oft chosen response. Found out your company is downsizing? "Jeeezzusss Christ!" may be the chosen form of phrase. Perhaps I could confess that I often hear the name of Jesus said more often in this manner than in the reverent manner than which it deserves. So lets take a look at "Jesus Christ!". First, let's address why Christians cringe at the flippant use of their Savior's name. Then we will look at a reason why "Jesus Christ!" is probably the most accurate verbal expression of frustration that exists in the world today. Oh, yes. It's going to be fun.
Why Christians Cringe At "Jesus Christ!"
For a Christian to hear "Jesus Christ!" as an exclamation of frustration is cringe-worthy. To followers of Jesus the cringing comes from two sources. One is derived directly from the Bible. One of the hallowed Ten Commandments says that we should not use the name of God vainly. Apparently verbalized frustration is vain usage even though the Psalmist name checks the Lord in his passionate pleas of frustration. But there is a difference between calling upon the name of the Lord for help and flippantly using a revered name in the same way you would use some choice 4-lettered taboo words.
Right from the start it is clear that using the names of the Triune God in flippant ways is a big no-no for Christians. But there is another more personal reason why Christians may get offended when they hear "Jesus!" shortly after hearing the glass plate fall to the floor. Please try to remember that to any Christian "Jesus" is the sweetest name they know. Jesus is God and friend. He is Savior, that is, the one that rescued them from the torment of life and eternity. A metaphor may be appropriate:
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As the giant boat sank in the icy waters Rose had one last hope. If Jack had not sacrificed himself to save Rose on that fateful night then the story would have never been made into one of the highest-grossing blockbusters of all time - or something like that. Now, lets say the news of Jack's sacrifice spread all over the world (I guess it has, hasn't it?). People would be speaking of Jack with reverence in their voice and giving him the highest honors by bestowing golden men statues to proclaim his excellence. But instead of this, people would start using Jack's name to voice verbal frustrations. Every time they got passed over for an award they should have won they would yell "Jack-rabbit!" Or when you stepped on a Lego in the middle of the night whilst stumbling to the bathroom you exclaimed with great anger "Fork-lifting Jack Rabbit!"
Do you think that Rose would be a little angry?
You've reduced the one that saved her life to throw-away response of frustration. Jack was the reason she was alive. Jack is the most revered name in Rose's life. So when its used so flippantly, it stings really bad.
When Christians hear the name of their Savior being used so disrespectfully it stings because Jesus is the most respected name in their lives. Now you know why some react so strongly. But I would like to go deeper into this discussion and suggest that "Jesus Christ!" makes complete theological sense as a verbal expression of frustration for those who have not committed to following Jesus.
Making sense of "Jesus Christ!" as valid expression of frustration - for those who do not believe.
As we noted, in the Ten Commandments God explicitly states that his people will be held accountable if they vainly use His name. But it can be argued that those who are not God's people are not bound by those laws. At the very least they have little or no desire to actually follow the laws of a religion that they personally deem not necessary.
This brings up an fascinating point of discussion. If those who do not follow the Christian teachings why do they invoke the the name of the Christian God when faced with a painful, surreal, or unbelievable situation? The phrase "Kanye West" or "Walter White" has yet to make it to level of invocation, I guess.
I am fascinated by this idea. It really does not make logical sense that "Jesus Christ!" would be so used so abundantly. I may even go so far as to say that it is the only Human Resources approved curse word. No, F*** or S**** allowed, but "Jesus Christ!" is fine. Unless you are locked away in a religiousized bubble there is no way you can make it through an American day without hearing someone use Jesus' name in an irreverent way. But why? I have two reasons that may make sense:
The Language of the People
Cultural Colloquialism: The name of Jesus has been adapted into the natural language patterns of all people. With each passing generation the reverence slowly eroded until the name became synonymous with other expressions of anger and frustration. Now it is just commonplace to invoke the name without much thought of origins or meaning.
We learn what to say and when to say from parents, peers, and portrayals. Portrayals are the actors, athletes, and assorted characters we see as cultural icons. When the WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin adopted "Austin 3:16" as his new catchphrase it gradually became a part of the lexicon for a generation of wrestling viewers. Children hear their parents respond to certain circumstances and they mimic the verbal responses when they are confronted with similar situations. Language is a form of bonding. Friends will begin to talk like each other. It is something they have in common. This is what has happened with "Jesus Christ!" It slowly became a part of the lexicon as a phrase that denoted frustration or anger instead of respect and reverence.
The colloquialisation of the phrase "Jesus Christ!" is certainly merited enough to explain its constant use in society. But is there are deeper seeded reason as to why the response seems so natural? Maybe so.
Spiritual Reality breaking in to the Material World: Words, in order for them to be consistently communicated, must match the emotion that is trying to be conveyed. Screaming "Sunshine and Rainbows" after receiving a speeding ticket just does not make sense (though that would be hysterical). On the surface, screaming the name "Jesus Christ!" does not make much sense either, right? Most would agree that at the very least Jesus was a good moral teacher like Confucius or Hammurabi. Yet, those names are not invoked in moments of frustration.
So, we must admit, that on some level the use of "Jesus Christ!" somehow fits within the emotion of frustration, anger, bewilderment, and other personal uses. The phrase would not have made it to the colloquial status if it did not fundamentally make sense as a legitimate expression of internal feeling.
The spiritual reality we don't talk about.
There is a spiritual reality that we do not often talk about. Probably because we don't fully understand it or we are scared to talk about it. Perhaps it is because this reality is not visible and thus it is often dismissed or kept in the substrate of the mind. It can be hard enough to live in the world we do see - the one stricken with war, famine, and corruption - that it can seem overwhelming to delve into the unseen spiritual reality that leaves us hanging in the tension of mystery.
One of the ways the Church addresses the nature of these these two realities - seen and not - is the idea of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is being revealed on earth in a visible way and an invisible way. We are progressing to the end when the Kingdom becomes fully revealed. The Kingdom is perfect and peaceful. It is the completion of what creation "should be" right now, but its not here yet. The tension between these two events is oft referred to as the "now" and "not yet."
There are times when the Kingdom of God breaks through in visible ways. It is regularly seen on Sunday mornings as Christians gather to offer worship to the God who is there and who has saved them. The Church remembers where they came from, expresses gratitude for the present and are sent out into the community reminded of their future destination that has yet to be revealed. But the spiritual reality is not just a reality for church goers. It encompasses all the inhabitants of the earth.
But what does this have to do with "Jesus Christ!" and stubbing your toe?
I am convinced that the exclamation of Jesus' name in response to frustration is consistent with the tension between the now and not yet. Christians cry out to God when this world does not match up with what the Kingdom of God promises to be. We cry to God about the existence of sex-slavery and the abuses of the powerful over the weak. Our cries are reverent because we believe that God hears and will act on our behalf as He empowers us to progress justice and mercy. When we feel the pain of the Kingdom we cry out to the King. Our frustrations are petitions for answers and understandings.
Can it be that the minor vocalized frustrations of the unbelievers, while limited in scope, are similar to the Christian response to injustice? The cry of the unbeliever is "Jesus Christ! what is should not be!" That Lego should not hurt so much! I earned that reward and I did not receive it! How could you have been so irresponsible!?! Leo should have won an Oscar by now!
These are the cries of tension between what is and what should be - or what has not yet come to pass. The exclamation of "Jesus Christ!" can be seen as an irreverent expression of an unrealized spirituality. Yes, it is flippant and disrespectful expression, but in an odd way, it is almost a confession of the existence of the Kingdom. It is a petition to the King that what is, certainly should not be. Is that confession enough to bring saving grace? No. Not really. But if you ponder the depths of a simple colloquialism maybe you will come face-to-face with a reality you were not ready to confront.
Perhaps the next time you exclaim "Jesus Christ!" stop and pray that what is would match what should be. You never know, Jesus Christ might just be present to show you something new.