Many people in our church and community recently saw Jefferson County High School’s production of Legally Blonde. The satirical musical is based on the 2001 movie of the same name that stereotypes sorority girls, Harvard law students, greasy lawyers, and what skills it takes to be successful in life. The opening number of the musical is called “O My God.” Opening much like the first song in Bye Bye Birdie, a series of sorority girls burst through the doors of the Delta Nu house singing about the upcoming engagement of Elle and her boyfriend Warner.
The refrain of the song repeats and again and again the phrase, “O my God you guys.”
I’ve had a couple of questions from congregants about my feelings on this particular song. I suppose the concern is whether the song itself is a violation of the Third Commandment, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses His name that way.” If you’re like me, you learned in early elementary school that we break the third commandment when we say “O my God.” God’s name is to be used with respect and reverence and not in casual conversation or as an expletive.
And I would still argue that as Christians we do well to avoid using “O my God” as a common phrase, as it is disrespectful and trite. What I would also hope, however, is that as we mature in our knowledge and faith we gain a fuller understanding of what the commandment is about.
The Third Commandment
First, the phrase we render in English “make wrongful use” comes from a Hebrew word that might just as faithfully be translated to mean that we should not evoke God’s name if we are lying, or as empty, useless, vain, or to no purpose. To break the third commandment is to do something “in the name of God” that is not worthy of that name. Frivolousness is one of those criteria, but so are any actions we carry out “in the name of God” that are not faithful to the God of Scripture.
Second, how do we know when an action is faithful to the use of God’s name and when it is frivolous, a lie, or empty? God reveals the divine name to Moses but remains veiled in mystery beyond the name meaning “I am who I am.” What this tells the Hebrew people and us is that if we want to know who God is we have to look at what God does. God liberates the people from slavery, God provides for them in the wilderness, God gives them a law to order their existence in peace, God guides them into a Promised Land, and God forgives them over and over when they are disobedient. If we want to use God’s name faithfully, we invoke God’s name when we work in the same manner- to liberate the oppressed, to care for the downtrodden, to practice relationships of peace, and to forgive.
As Christians we are told in our baptism that we “have put on Christ.” We are actually bearers of the divine name, so it is not only when we officially say something is “God’s will” but it is every word, action, feeling, and thought that we have that is actually done in God’s name. Our lives are to be testimony in all areas to the honoring of this command, this claim on us.
To use God’s name faithfully, therefore, goes far beyond saying “O My God” but how we actually seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. To avoid wrongful use of God’s name we must be truth speakers and love sharers and offer forgiveness. To say that we belong to God and to live otherwise is to break the third commandment with far greater severity than saying “O My God.”
Song in Context of Musical
So what do we make of a song titled “O My God” in a musical theatre production? Is this a breaking of the third commandment? First, let me reiterate that I’d prefer that we as Christians strike this phrase from our speech as frivolous use of God’s name.
In the musical Legally Blonde I sensed no malic behind the use of the phrase. The song is not intended to denounce a particular religion or beat down a particular theological viewpoint. The use of the phrase is actually an exaggeration of the reality around us every day. Try counting in the next couple of days how many people say “O My God” around you. Watch a couple of hours of HGTV home renovations and you’ll hear it just about at every reveal of a renovated home.
The repetition of the phrase over and over in the opening number of Legally Blonde satirizes west coast sorority girls, and so in a way reveals just how frivolous the phrase is. By using it over and over again, perhaps we as the audience are to recognize how silly it is to speak this way and perhaps find more creative ways of talking in our own lives.
Aristotle thought that all art should teach. It might appear that Legally Blonde is about getting people to laugh, but perhaps the show, with its over-the-top stereotypes, asks us each to question how much we try to fit a particular “mold” and calls into question whether that’s the healthiest way for us to live.