How Present-day English Messes Up our Relationship with God
Hang tight, because this is a long one.
You know why a lot of people don’t go to church? Because they think churches are out of touch. You know why even a lot of people who do go to church don’t read the Bible? Because the Bible is out of touch and irrelevant.
“Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou has been a shelter for me,” “Believest thou this?” Unless you’re a devout Quaker, nobody talks like that. It’s too stiff and too formal. But every famous line from the Bible that we know uses the “thees” and “thous.”
That’s because most of the Bible quotes we know are quoted from the King James Version of the Bible, one of the most famous, and arguably most poetic versions of Scripture in the English Language. But because our view of early modern English is that it was stiff and formal (probably because making High School students believe that Shakespeare is anything but a snooze fest is one of the hardest jobs in the world), and because all the Bible quotes we know best are people addressing God with “Thou” and “Thee” and “Thy,” it gives us the perception that God is stiff and formal.
Who wants anything to do with a stiff and formal God? That God is boring, serious, wrathful, vengeful, petty, and completely uninteresting. Believing in that God is a tough sell.
Spanish-speakers use two versions of the second-person part of speech: tú, and usted. In much of Latin American Spanish, if you’re talking to another person, here’s how you decide what to use:
2nd person singular informal: tú | 2nd person plural, informal: ustedes
2nd person sng., formal (to a superior): usted | 2nd person pl., formal: ustedes
To a boss, or a respected elder, or a king, you would always use usted. You would use tú only with peers, family, and your closest friends. Tú is intimate, usted is stiff and formal.
Early Modern English had a system exactly like Spanish. If you were talking to another person, here’s how you would address them:
2nd person singular informal: thou | 2nd person plural, informal: ye/you
2nd person sng., formal (to a superior): you | 2nd person pl., formal: you
In Early Modern English, you would never dream of meeting the Queen and saying, “Pleased to make thy acquaintance.” It would be like meeting Barack Obama and saying, “What’s up, bro?”
The King James Bible uses “thee” and “thou” to talk to God, because there is no more intimate relationship than the one between you and God. There’s no one with whom you should be more familiar or who should be more familiar with you. There’s no one who knows you better, loves you more, cares more for you than God.
Why would you be all stiff and formal and address God as “You”?