Orders of the Church: Solemn Oaths and Vows

After 23 years as a legal adult, I was finally summoned for Jury Duty. Crammed into a room with barely enough space to get out of your seat, we were witnessing industrialized justice — the finely tuned mechanism of juris prudence American style. After the introduction by the juror room manager, we were all asked to place our hands on a Bible and swear our honesty. It was a little anti-climactic. Can something that is done en masse with such efficiency really have any meaning? I don’t think God cares so much about that. Swearing an oath is swearing an oath.

Swearing oaths and vows is evidence, I think, of the image of God in man. To tell the truth and to make promises is as much a part of who we are as creativity. In fact, it goes back to the very beginning. Our whole sin-problem began with a promise that was broken. Our comfort is that God is oath-taking, promise making, truth telling God. That reality, the author of Hebrews tells us is the anchor for our souls.

The Scriptures are not indifferent on the subject of swearing. False swearers, deceitful speech, lying, and swearing conditionally are all condemned. Revelation says that a special place is reserved for those who lie. Psalm 15 has been especially comforting: “God honors the man ‘that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.'” When I think of the cost that he paid, for that oath, it makes me want to be the kind of man who “changeth not.”

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