Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Subjunctive God

God save the Queen!

Actually, I'm not much of a royalist these days, though I do wish Queen Elizabeth well. Now that I argue for a separation of Church and State for the disestablishment of the CofE, the argument in favour of a constitutional monarchy is not as strong in my eyes as it once was - indeed it is considerably weaker. However, it is not the Queen that is the point of this post; it is a point of grammar - namely the subjunctive mood.

The subjunctive is not a mood that's easily seen in English: the word "mood" now has another meaning. I'm sure that there have been times when a Latin teacher asks which mood "vivat" is in, the answer has come back "happy, Miss!"

For those unfamiliar with the finer points of grammar, the subjunctive is used to speak of potentiality, of circumstances which are possible, but not necessarily certain. We use the subjunctive to express conditions or deal with uncertainties. The phrase "God save the Queen" is an example of the seldom-used English subjunctive. It doesn't say "God saves the Queen" so it's not an expression of a simple present tense. It's not a command (as if one could or would command God!) otherwise a comma would be needed - "God, save the Queen!" It is a prayer for God to save the Queen, and in modern English, we might more usually say, "may God save the Queen". He doesn't have to save her: it may be morally necessary for Him not to save her. However, it is our desire that He save her (note the subjunctive there!) and we pray that He would indeed do so.

We are therefore able to speak of things which may or may not happen, or which may or may not be true by use of the subjunctive mood. If mankind is capable of inventing ways of expressing conditional, probable or undecided statements, then mankind is also capable of realising that there indeed are many possibilities that could happen. If that is the case, then we find ourselves confronted with the fact that the mind of a Sovereign God must be much bigger and able to consider all possibilities, their causes and consequences in ways that the human mind can never reach. All these possibilities and conditions are real in the mind of God in a similar way to the square root of -1 being possible in the mind of a mathematician. These possibilities are not necessarily actual, i.e. made real in our universe, but it is possible for God to know how each and every possible human being can act, and how they can make free choices. He knows how in certain situations they will choose this, and when they will choose the alternative.

This is rather a sobering thought. If God does know how we would possibly act, then each time we spend thinking "if ever I meet X, I'll fetch him such a bop on the nose," or "if she would only turn her back, I could pop that chocolate bar in my pocket without her knowing" and entertain these thoughts, then it becomes very easy to see why God indeed does look at the intentions of our hearts before what we actually do. If we actually take stock of these hypothetical thoughts, we get an insight into just how broken we are as people. Even a little subjunctive thought can speak volumes about who we actually are and what motivates us.

Every day, we have a thousand thoughts that fly through our heads which, if made real, would shame us, humiliate the ones we love, put us in prison, or find us hanging from a tree surrounded by a crowd of people with burning torches. These thoughts are only vague possibilities, but we do need to examine why we have entertained those thoughts, because at heart there is something lurking in us that needs to be brought to light and dashed upon the Rock that is Christ.

This is not easy to do and takes much spiritual discipline and practice. The sacrament of Confession really can help here. Once the actual sins are out of the way, taken care of by the Mercy of God, then we can work on the potential sins lurking in our subjunctive. The forming of a good conscience is imperative in progression in the Christian Faith.

Setting some time aside each day to examine our thoughts should be part of our daily practice. It does hurt, but sin should be recognised as the cause of that hurt, and the fact that we feel pain shows us that we are no longer numb to the presence of sin in us. We feel pain because we are getting closer to God, and the pain is GOOD!

Once we have conquered our subjunctive, we will be more thoughtful in what we do, say, and think. By thinking hard, we will be less prone to crass statements or barely concealed bigotry, and in a much better position to love our neighbour as ourself.

In knowledge of our free-will, God has predestined us for Salvation by putting us in the best place in which we can flourish. This is how He has taken care of our subjunctive. We now have to ensure that our will is not enslaved to sin by rooting all sin out with God's Grace through Confession and Repentance, so that we cannot fall away from that Salvation and that our Eternal Life with Him is an actuality, rather than a possibility.

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