To “damn it” or not

This morning, as I was getting dressed, I heard my four-year-old son exclaim, “Oh, dammit!” To say the least, I was shocked. I don’t talk like that, and I don’t recall my wife talking like that. So he must have picked it up from school, family, or (gulp) church. I don’t particularly like any of those possibilities, but I suppose that is beside the point (for the moment). When I asked him where he had heard it, he answered, “No, I just said it.” In other words, (a) he didn’t know where he had heard it, and (b) he didn’t understand that it was unacceptable for him to be saying such things.

That last revelation struck me. He didn’t understand that it was wrong to say such things.

Then another thought occurred to me: apparently, whoever he heard it from didn’t realize it was wrong to say such things.

And then a question dawned on me: why is it wrong to say, “Damn it!” or “Damn you!” or even just plain “Damn!”?

That thought stopped me in my tracks for a minute, but then a question dawned: “What are you really saying when you ‘damn’ something?” To answer that question, I went, of course, to Google. By typing in “define:damn,” I discovered a wealth of information about the word, including that it was (as I suspected) a shortened version of the word “condemn,” which is defined by Google to mean “express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure” and “sentence (someone) to a particular punishment, [especially] death.” And suddenly, the floodgates opened as Bible verses immediately sprung to mind.

The first verse that popped into my head was John 3:17, which declares, “For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” And then came 2 Peter 3:9, which proclaims, “The Lord… is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” And Romans 2:1: “Therefore, any one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things.”

In other words, the Bible is pretty clear that Jesus doesn’t really like to damn anyone. (Now, please understand that’s not to say that He condones sinful behavior or won’t condemn people to Hell at judgment. It’s just to say that He much prefers to offer hope and salvation from damnation.) And since, as a Christian, my objective should be godliness, and my prayer should be “give me the desires of my heart” (i.e., “mold my will and my passion into conformity with Yours, O God”), I shouldn’t want to damn anyone or anything, either. Rather, it should be my objective to save the world by leading them to repentance.

So right off the bat, it doesn’t look all that good for this ubiquitous phrase. Much less when it’s preceded by the name of God!

But then there’s this: Google tells me that “damn” is used as a curse. And James 3:9-10 says: “We praise our Lord and Father with [the tongue], and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it…. My brothers, these things should not be this way.” That seems pretty clear.

And then, finally, going back to that definition of damn, I saw this: when used as an exclamation, “damn” expresses anger, surprise or frustration.” That anger bit is interesting because of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.”

It seems to me that crying, “Damn!” is at least the equivalent of crying, “You moron!”

But wait a second. I mean, it’s just a word, right? Surely, it’s okay if we don’t really mean to condemn or curse, and we’re not mad. Right?

Well, that may be, except for what Jesus said just a few verses later in Matthew 5: “Let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one” (v 37). In other words, Christians are to say what we mean, and mean what we say. Suddenly, saying “Damn!” without meaning it “that way” becomes an issue of integrity. And if we say what we don’t mean – or don’t mean what we say – that is, as Jesus says, “from the evil one.”

Ouch.

So, what then will we do with one of the most prevalent words in the English vernacular? I mean, I cannot tell you how often I hear this word! And I would guess that, if you start listening for it, you will be astonished as well.

Well, at the very least, we stop using it flippantly. We need to actually consider our words before using it. I mean, there are certainly occasions when the word “damn” is appropriate, but to be honest, I can only think of a handful of times in my lifetime when that was the case. Indeed, according to Biblegateway.com, the word “condemn” only appears a total of 60 times in the entire New American Standard Bible, widely considered the most literal translation available. Considering that the “standard critical editions” of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles (i.e., as close to the original text as we can get right now) contain some 545,202 words (source here), that means that the word “condemn” comprises approximately 1% of 1% (i.e., .01%) of the Bible. 

The word “damn” doesn’t appear at all.

And considering some of the trouble Israel in general – and many of the main characters of the Bible in particular – got into, that’s huge.

And maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to encourage our friends and family to do the same.

So, to “damn it” or not? I guess I would have to say, “Not.”

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1 Response to “To “damn it” or not”


  1. 1 Grandma in Custer October 18, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I have long been burdened by what I hear coming from the mouths of professed Christians. I usually pray for the Spirit to convict and teach in their lives, but often He teaches and convicts through more mature Christians/Disciples. Trouble is, not much of that is happening in our current church atmosphere. I applaud what you are doing, Jeremy, and pray it helps the rest of us as much as it will help you.


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