Thank you Sorry Please

by Robert Brow ( June 2000

Thank you

The way people say "Thank you" tells you a lot about a country, or part of a country. I was told by a guard at the Kingston Penitentiary that the real hard core prisoners never thanked him or anyone for anything. If they ever began saying "thank you" they were on their way to rehabilitation. In India there was no Hindi for "Thank you" till Christians needed the word. Some people had the idea that by doing a kindness the person was piling up merit, so there was no point in thanking them. In Pakistan Urdu uses the Arabic word shukrya but in the past it was not said to inferiors or to women. I like it when people wave a "Thank you" back at me through the back window of their car when I let them into a line of traffic. But there are some cities where hardly anyone says thank you for anything. If they can force their way in, they assume they are smarter than you are, or in a bigger hurry.

Parents who care about manners train their children to say "Thank you" whenever they are given a favor. Those children could grow up and go on through life mouthing the words from habit, or to avoid being considered boorish in their social contacts. But some of them will experience genuine gratefulness, and it will show in their facial expression and body language. One of my joys as a minister is to visit an old lady who has obviously suffered a lot but remained sweetly thankful.

We can tell a lot about people's religion by the way they say "Thank you" to the Creator. Some argue there is no God to thank. Others say "God gave me such a bad deal. Why should I thank him?" And Jesus was astonished that only one ten lepers who were healed from leprosy came back to say "Thank you" (Luke 17:11-19).

The heart of Christian worship is called the Eucharist (from the Greek eucharistein, which means to give thanks). There are of course hypocrites who sing and say the right words of thanksgiving in church while their inner sourness makes them as crabby as hell. But like any loving parent God delights in a genuine heart attitude of thanksgiving. And thanksgiving sweetens everything.

But of course God never expects anything from his children which he does not do himself. It is good to imagine him saying "Thank you" to us. "I appreciated it when you took time to talk to that person who was obviously left out at the party."

I am sorry

It costs nothing to say "I am sorry" when we have inconvenienced someone. Yesterday I cut someone off when I failed to give a signal. He gave an angry honk. But happily I was able to catch up with him, and both our windows were open. I leaned over and said "I'm sorry I cut you off." His astonishment turned to a beautiful smile. Happy is the office where people apologize to each other when things go wrong.

I knew a fellow who failed his driving test, and the reason was obvious. When the examiner pointed out a fault he would argue that he had done it right. I suggested that every time he missed a parallel park, or the examiner pointed out a fault at a turn, he could say "I am sorry. Can I try that again?" Next time he passed in spite of a mistake which could have failed him again.

God is of course big enough to forgive, and keep loving us, even when we fail to say sorry. And of course we make many mistakes as we drive through our life. Saying "I am sorry" to God is called confession. But it does not require going to a priest with a list of the faults we remember that week. The ideal is a continuous dialogue. "I am sorry I made a mess of that conversation. As I meet that person again, help me to listen instead of just arguing my own opinions."

When a child has been put through a painful procedure, we say "I am sorry you had to have that needle in your spine." It is equally important for us to hear God say "I am sorry I had to let you go through it." When someone has suffered a disaster, we say "I am so sorry about that." And feeling genuinely sorry for someone is similar to having pity on someone. That's why I love the text "The Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them" (Judges 2:18). The Bible does not say so, but I am sure that God regretted what had happened to his servant Job, he felt for him deeply, and eventually he rewarded him beyond measure (Job 1:8, 42:10, 12).


Parents train their children to say "Please" before they are given a piece of pie. It could remain as a formality for polite conversation, but it can also develop into a genuine respect for the freedom of the other. And there are many ways of expressing our request for a favor. "I wonder if you could spare a minute to hold this for me. Please could I ask you to help me move this table."

We say "Please" because we recognize the right of a person not to do what we ask for. Anything someone does for us is grace that we cannot claim as a right. Others go through life thinking everyone owes them a living. As soon as they make a demand, it should be met immediately and without question. These are the parasites of society. Gracious people make us feel appreciated.

God is "The God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10). He does not expect us to beg like a dog that has been trained to sit for a cookie. Nor do we have to include a "Please" in every prayer. He "makes his sun rise on the evil and good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). The difference is when we realize we don't deserve it. And when we see all the good things that God provides for us to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17) we recognize that he gives so graciously.

The supreme joy is to grasp that Jesus the Messiah gives us the respect of saying "I wonder if you could go and visit so and so." Or "Please don't treat me like a tyrant or a slave driver. I love you as my own personal friend" (John 15:15)." He also invites us into costly service. And when we do what he asks us to do, he says "Thank you very much, I appreciate that." The wonder for him and for us is that we have obeyed his invitation because we have freely chosen to do so. There was no stick or threat of burning in hell. Just grace and incredible graciousness.

Children easily learn to say "Thank you, Sorry, and Please" when their parents give them the genuine respect connected with those words. And we learn to give others respect when we notice that God our Father respects us as free beings. "Thank you for doing that kindness . . . I am sorry you are having a rough time . . . I wonder if you could do this for me."


For a listing of books for and against what is now called Open Theism, see On this site there is a review of Pinnock, Clark (Editor), The Openness of God, 1994

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