“Oh my goodness!!!”
How many of you say that phrase? Usually we say “oh my goodness” when we feel surprised, disappointed or disgusted. Why, then, do we not just say “I am surprised,” or “I am disgusted”? Certainly there are times when we do say, “I am surprise” or “I am disgusted,” but my guess is that there are many more instances when we say, “Oh my goodness!” We’ve trained ourselves, by habit, so that the words come flying out of our mouths pretty much without thinking about them. Let’s slow down and think about those words.
I wonder how that combination of words came together. There are, of course, other versions of the phrase “oh my goodness.” We sometimes say, “Oh my gosh,” or “Oh geez,” or others. Perhaps “oh my goodness” was created as a way to avoid what some people consider to be taking the Lord’s name in vain, “Oh my God.” It could be that the first time “Oh my God” was used, it was done by a person who was praying. Maybe they were so shocked by a situation, they didn’t know what to do except pray, “Oh my God…help! I need you!” If so, theirs was a very faithful response to a situation, was it not? But as is so often the case with religion, some people likely felt offended, accusing “Oh my God”-speakers as taking the name of the Lord in vain, which is one of the 10 Commandments. Historically, to keep that commandment, Jews were extremely cautious about the use of God’s name. Even in contemporary Judaism, some will not print the English word, “God”. They will instead print, “G-d,” as a way of conveying respect to God.
We Christians have not gone that far, but we have squabbled about what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain, which is a concern about not using God’s name flippantly or as a curse or oath. Instead some Christians claim that to honor God, to honor the real relationship we have with him, we shouldn’t use his name or any form of his name in a way that would denigrate that relationship. At the same time, we also don’t meander into legalism. We don’t create rules that God didn’t create. So many just say, “Oh my goodness!”
What does goodness have to do with a phrase expressing surprise? My guess is that “goodness” was selected as a sanitary replacement word for “God.” In other words, the people were trying to avoid saying God’s name in vain. They were likely not trying to create a phrase that would help us grow goodness in our lives. Of course, avoiding saying God’s name in vain is a good thing. But goodness goes well beyond just following rules, especially man-made rules. We can follow rules and have very little goodness in our hearts. The much more important question is this: How can we grow goodness in our lives?
In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives. We’ve learned about growing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and now this week we’ll study what it means to grow goodness. We get started in the next post.