It is a snow day at New College, and maybe even UPS, so I have a bit of time to reflect on the weekend.
◊ “Daddy, I am hungry”
◊ “Give me___.”
◊ “I’m thirsty.”
◊ “I want cheese.”
In case you missed it, these are all explicit or implied imperatives. An imperative is the type of sentence which communicates command. ‘Do this,’ [you]!
Naturally, I am trying to teach my daughter to communicate in a polite manner. Often, I respond to “I’m thirsty” by saying, “that’s nice.” If she doesn’t catch on, I might ask “Is there something you can do about that?” She then responds, “ask,” and proceeds to make her request in a more acceptable manner.
In general, it is considered rude to use the imperative form of address without adding on some form of polite entreaty, such as ‘please’. And even more common is to use an entirely different form of communication, the interrogative mood: “May I have____?” The interrogative is generally considered the polite form of request today.
Aside from showcasing my superior parenting skills, there is a deeper issue which this brings to mind. The imperative form has not always carried the connotation of imposition and demand. In fact, the imperative was, and still is occasionally, the most appropriate form of entreaty.
Imagine a man stuck in a car after a wreck. “Help me,” he cries. No ordinary human being would consider the plea ill-mannered. “Say please!”
Rather the imperative can contain within it two extraordinary implications:
◊ the idea that the situation speaks for itself, that the need surpasses the explanation or apology of ordinary entreaty
◊ And the belief that the one who has been entreated will be moved by this plea…that is implicit trust in the goodness and willingness of the giver
It is this last part that puts social manners in conflict with the biblical imperative:
- Give us this day our daily bread
- Make hast to help me
- Forgive us
- Save me
- Give me understanding
In addressing God, we assume his mercy, his delight in providing for us. We do not demand of Him like spoiled children, but rather trust in his love and faithfulness to fulfill these petitions. The imperative in these cases contains an implicit plea or ‘please’. Thus what appears scandalous is truly an appeal to God in his nature as provider.
In turning my child’s request into a case of manners, I experience an inner conflict because the case of child petitioning father is precisely the biblical case which Jesus uses to ensure us that we can and might, may and should petition the father (Mtt. 7:7-12)
Contained within this encouragement, seeing that it is situated within the Sermon on the Mount, is also the charge to give and to love freely.
So even as I cleverly instruct my daughter to employ manners, I experience a twinge in that I may possibly be undermining the image of our Heavenly Father, who gives gladly and freely to all His children.
I pray that I might discern the difference between a problem with manners, and the biblical imperative which indicates the trustful heart of a child for her father.
Because ultimately, it is with humility, gratitude, but also with boldness with which I hope she shall approach His throne.
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