Have you ever gone where you simply weren’t wanted? As a hospital chaplain, I’ve entered plenty of rooms where I wasn’t wanted.
On one of the most memorable of those occasions, I rushed to the emergency room to meet a family whose mother was undergoing CPR.
“Hello,” I said between breaths. “I’m the hospital chaplain.”
As quickly as the word “chaplain” leapt from my lips, a 350-pound man leapt from his chair and pointed his index finger toward the door.
From the depths of his 6-foot-3-inch body, he screamed at me. “Get out of here! My mama ain’t gonna die!”
Because I had been summoned to the ER, my bet was that his mama certainly was dying. However, I certainly wasn’t there to present a second opinion, so I backed out of the room in a reverse moonwalk, palms extended, saying, “OK, OK.”
As I walked down an exit hallway, his smaller brother caught up to me and begged me to return. If I returned, he promised he’d force his “little brother” to apologize for ejecting me.
I did and he did.
After obtaining a reluctant apology, the persuasive brother turned to his family to announce the chaplain would now pray for their mother to be OK.
I prayed, of course, albeit a bit uncomfortable at the two assumptions filling the room. The big man had assumed I was the angel of death who’d brought bad luck. He thought kicking me out of the room would reverse his mother’s fortune. Wrong.
But his younger brother may have expressed the more daring assumption in his prayer request. He thought that by getting me to return to the room, he’d reversed the bad mojo brought about by my ejection. To him, I was a good-luck charm; to the larger brother, I was a bad luck curse.
In crisis, people sometimes see God as their only hope of winning the big death lottery. But God won’t be used as a charm — good or bad. Using God in this way is blasphemy.
In fact, the Judaic-Christian tradition has a commandment to address that specific blasphemy. Deuteronomy 5:11 says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
Most folks interpret the verse as an admonishment against using “damn” as God’s last name.
While I’m sure that particular use of God’s name doesn’t inspire Him to shower us with blessings, the commandment actually speaks against using God’s name to obtain privileged influence.
Modern culture calls this practice “name dropping.”
Sometimes the habit takes the form of a toxic theology called, “name-it-and-claim-it.” This is a belief that if one uses special wording for prayers, God is somehow coerced to do everything requested.
No matter what form it takes, using God’s name to get what you want is vain and pointless, thinking that never works.
And unfortunately, it didn’t work in the emergency room either. I disappointed both brothers. Their mother died, and I was summarily dismissed.
Fortunately, the brothers only dismissed me, not God. He remained in that room long after I left. Because, unlike me, God isn’t scared away by those who reject him. He remains present in our pain and forever among those who seek him — whether we know it or not.