Remember that post I did awhile back about the need in the English language for a plural form of you? Well, I’m finally getting back to that thought. (And, like last time, the images illustrating this post are random things that came up when I searched for free images for “you.” So don’t waste your time trying to make sense out of them.)
This being somewhat of a grammar issue, I asked Granny Grammar to take over. But she wouldn’t touch it. Says it ain’t polite to discuss politics or religion in public, and since this deals with both, she wouldn’t even consider it.
Umm…. what does this have to do with politics and religion, you may ask? Good question. Bear with me, and ye shall see.
As I mentioned in that previous post, the lack of a plural form of you in modern English can lead to loss of clarity. Sometimes it can create misunderstanding, for example, as to what God is saying/who He’s talking to in the Bible. (Ah, that’s where the religion comes in.) This is one, though not the only, reason why I use the King James Version in my personal Bible study: it’s the only version that retains the nuances of meaning lost through updating the old thee’s and thou’s.
A case in point: let’s look at Deuteronomy chapter 9, where Moses is addressing the nation of Israel on the cusp of their entrance into the land God promised to give them. If you don’t have a KJV Bible handy, you can read it here.
Moses points out how God supernaturally protected and provided for them for the past forty years, all for the purpose of bringing them to this very place. It starts to get interesting from the grammatical point of view in verse 10. When Moses talks about the people’s responsibility to remember God and keep His commands, he uses singular pronouns: When thou (singular; the plural would be ye) hast eaten and are full, and have built nice houses, verse 12 – when thy (singular; the plural would be your) personal wealth has multiplied, verse 13 – beware that thine heart (singular; the plural would be your) not be lifted up and thou forget the LORD thy God, verse 14…
This singular you continues all the way through until the last part of verse 19, where it shifts back to the plural for the rest of the chapter. Moses tells the people, in essence, that if each of you, as individuals, do these things, it will affect all of you — the entire nation.
Historically, this is directed to the nation of Israel in the time of Moses. But it reveals a principle that applies to everyone, everywhere. That is, God’s plan isn’t for a nation to carry the people on its back; rather, the individuals are responsible for the health of the nation.
Ah, that’s where the politics comes in! Quite so. When we understand and believe God’s word, it affects our lives as citizens, not just our religious lives.
But there’s more. The same principle is seen in the next chapter. Moses puts the responsibility of remaining humble before God on the individual (verses 4 through the first half of verse 7); their individual failures to do so drag the whole nation into rebellion and bring consequences upon all the country (the second half of verse 7 through verse 24). Again we see that the individual is responsible for the nation, not vice versa.
We miss all this if we think of all those “you” pronouns as plural. How easy it is to point the finger! To think you (plural) need to do this or that; I’m okay just the way I am.
It might be comforting to think that, but often, God’s thoughts run contrary to popular thinking.
Perhaps what we do, or the relationship we have (or don’t have) with God, isn’t such a private matter as we’d like to think. The decisions we make as far as our personal behavior and freedoms might not be wholly personal after all. Perhaps it’s not just my life I need to consider, but how my choices affect the whole nation.
Or maybe I’m reading something into this that isn’t really here. What do you think?