Should We Write God’s Friendship Out of Our Language?
Compared to other languages, honorifics play little role in American English. Along with democracy, we can blame the King James Bible for our lack of honorifics. When the KJV was written, “you” was the formal way to address a superior, whereas “Thou” was the informal and familiar term that you’d use for a personal friend. But, the KJV didn’t use “you” for God, but the informal and personal “thou.”
Some groups, like the Quakers, caught onto this and figured that since their Bible didn’t speak to God formally, why should they speak to men formally? So, they called those who had a higher status in society the informal “thou”, and omitted other formal practices considered obligatory to superiors at that time; all of which was considered “intolerable insubordination” and they often received beatings as a result (Story of Christianity; 254).
In Asian culture, Confucianism has made hierarchy the modus operandi of society. In fact, honorifics are mandatory when in a formal relationship or setting, and are so prevalent in their language that it would seem the entire language changes from formal to informal settings. We have honorifics in our titles, but Asian languages often have honorific verb tenses and nouns.
And these honorifics extend to God.
For instance, Koreans – due to the nature of their Confucian culture – will never call God “You” as it’s considered entirely disrespectful. Not using “you” in reference to God would effectively change almost all of our English worship songs. They also add the suffix “Sir” to all their names for God, as seen in the graphic above.
In older English, a person of lower position in society wouldn’t even use the second person to address a superior … a language device that communicated “I can’t speak to you personally because we aren’t supposed/meant to be friends.” So, they’d speak to their superiors in the third person, such as: “What can I do for Your Highness so that I might please her?”
If these honorifics translated to how we speak to God, we’d pray, “How can I serve Your Holiness and please Him today?”
What do you think? How would your relationship to God change if you always spoke to Him in formal language?