Sweet Jesus, Queen St. E, Toronto, Canada. https://www.blogto.com/restaurants/sweet-jesus-queen-east-toronto/

A few weeks ago I visited Toronto and came across the name of an ice-cream store: Sweet Jesus. I’m not going to lie – I got a bit excited. Why? It wasn’t because I was put off by how Jesus is attributed to ice cream. It was how in the middle of this busy hip neighbourhood, in the darkness of the night, I saw Jesus’ Name in a bright neon sign you can’t help but notice.

This Toronto-based ice cream store has 19 locations in North America, and they’re looking to open their first location in Burnaby, BC at Metrotown Shopping Center this summer.

How did they come up with the name? From an interview, the owners said the name “was created from the popular phrase that people use as an expression of enjoyment, surprise or disbelief. Our aim is not to offer commentary on anyone’s religion or belief systems. Our own organization is made up of amazing people that represent a wide range of cultural and religious beliefs.” [1] When the chain expanded their first store into the United States earlier this year, there was backlash from the Christian community. So much so that a petition was made and signed in hopes of boycotting the franchise.

In a recent poll conducted by The Star, the public seems to think[2]:

It’s harmless and fun – 62.4% (22,209 votes)

I find it offensive – 18.12% (6448 votes)

I’m not offended, but I see why others may be – 19.48% (6932 votes)

As a Christian, I find myself asking: Should I be offended?

Let’s take a step back for a moment.

My first contact with Christianity-inspired store names was in Ghana, Africa. “Jesus is Lord” Convenience Market. “God is Good” Automotive. “Yahweh” Pharmacy. “By His Grace” Hair Boutique. “Jesus Saves” Football Store (okay, maybe I made this one up). You can even find “One Way” printed in the rear windows of taxis. Though it may give foreigners a chuckle, if you ask the store keepers, the names of their shops are attributed to their faith. This doesn’t just happen in Ghana. There’s also John 3:16 Malaysian Delights in Vancouver. Or what about Forever 21 putting John 3:16 at the bottom of their shopping bags? Is the name of this ice cream chain any different? Would it be better if the owners were Christians?

Now, would I name an ice cream store Sweet Jesus? No. But whether the owners mean to or not, they’re drawing attention to the Name of Jesus. For me, this raises less of a controversy and more of an opportunity. In Vancouver, and perhaps where you’re reading this from, we live in a climate and culture where we’re not to publicly attribute anything to Jesus. Easter is about chocolate, bunnies and egg hunts. The message signs on our buses say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. Apparently it’s more politically correct to say “Happy Holidays” (though the root word of holidays is, you guessed it, “holy”). Yet, because of Sweet Jesus, we will be able to see and read His Name bright and center in one of our busiest and biggest shopping center.

So why are people offended? I’m sure both Christians and those who don’t follow Jesus have their reasons. I can’t answer for those who aren’t Christian. But I’ll try to relate to the Christians who are offended. Simply put, the store name seems to downplay and disrespect the Name of God. Underlying all of this is a deep and crucial theological question: What does it mean to use the Lord’s Name in vain?

The text people usually refer to is found in the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:7,

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

Right away, our minds go to how we shouldn’t say “Oh my God!” or “Jesus Christ!” However, it’s not necessarily the words we use, but the heart. The word for “misuse” here can also be translated as “idle” or “useless”. When we take the Lord’s Name in vain, we are really emptying God’s Name of His significance. Using this definition, does Sweet Jesus use the Lord’s Name in vain?

Let’s look at it from another angle.

Can someone empty something that they don’t have? How can I empty a bucket of water when the bucket I’m holding doesn’t have water in the first place? Better yet, how can I empty a bucket of water when I have neither the bucket nor the water? The owners of the ice cream chain aren’t Christian. So how can someone who isn’t Christian empty God’s Name when they don’t understand or really have the Name to begin with? As we’re doing theological and mental gymnastics, and before we do a split leap and jump to any conclusions, think about this – are they really “emptying” and rendering God’s Name “useless”? After all, how can it be useless when it was never useful to them to begin with.

I believe under all of this is an even greater issue. When we say we’re offended by this, what are we really saying? That no one should ever use the Name of God for any store? Or people who don’t know Jesus should never use God’s Name? Or are we saying that only Christians can use God’s Name because only we can use God’s Name in the right way? As a Christian, I want to be known for what I support, not for what I’m against. Even in this simple example, we need to give a reason for our faith; a reason for why this bothers or doesn’t bother us.

I’m going to gently (or not so gently) push back, and here’s why:

There’s more than one way of misusing and abusing the Lord’s Name. When we don’t live up to the Name of Jesus Christ as Christians, we’re misusing His Name. When we don’t love unconditionally as we ought to love, we misuse God’s Name. When we hold back our resources from the needs of others, we’re misusing God’s Name. When we spend all our time thinking about ourselves, we’re misusing God’s Name. Whenever we’re disobedient to God’s call on our lives, we’re misusing His Name. I can keep going, but here’s what I’m humbly suggesting: It’s bad for anyone to misuse God’s Name, but it’s far worse when Christians do. Why? Because Christians, out of anyone, should know what the Name stands for. As the Church, this is vital. Let’s focus our efforts on ourselves and how we live out the Name of Jesus. There’s a word for when our actions are different than our words and beliefs: hypocrite. There’s also a word to describe us when we think we’re better than the other person: judgemental. Before we cast the first stone, let’s reflect and see whether we have been misusing God’s Name not only with our words, but with our lives.

Jesus did it all perfectly. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:9-11,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This doesn’t sound like a person who can be dethroned. If death couldn’t hold Jesus down, I doubt an ice cream cone can diminish Him either. There is power in the Name of Jesus – and to feel insulted by this is actually to belittle the Name of Christ. Ultimately, nothing can deprive God of His power and glory.

Again, would I ever name a store Sweet Jesus? No. Do I really like the name? Not really. Are there times when we should stand up and speak out? Of course. As Christians, we seek to transform culture, not to be transformed by it. But can God turn any situation around and use it for good? Yes. For millennia, He’s been turning bad, hopeless situations (far worse than this) into good and for His glory. This can be done with the powerful Name of Jesus. Whether intentional or not, I believe God will have His way and this will give Him glory. Crucifixion is bad. But what happened when they crucified Jesus? Resurrection. Life. The possibility of eternal relationship with God for all. This is the work of God. This is the power of the Holy Spirit. This is truly how sweet Jesus is.

Psalm 34:8 – Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Your Turn:

  1. Are you offended by this situation? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think using the Lord’s Name in vain means?

[1] http://time.com/5216808/sweet-jesus-ice-cream-sparks-controversy/

[2] https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/03/24/sweet-jesus-ice-cream-parlour-faces-backlash-over-name.html