God’s “You’re Welcome”
by Pastor George Van Alstine
If you’re learning a foreign language, what are the first phrases you should master? Some might say the new language’s way of saying “Hello” is most important, but you could probably get by okay with a smile. I have some friends who would want to learn how to say “Where’s the restroom?” right away, but that may reflect more on their psychological than their physical need. My vote is that the first phrase to learn should be “Thank you.” Even if you say it in inappropriate situations, no one can get mad at you if you keep saying “Thank you.”
Right after we master “Thank you” we should start working on “You’re welcome.” This completes the personal connection started by “Thank you,” and it can lead to the initial bond of a new friendship.
We’ve just experienced our annual Thanksgiving Day,” and we’ve said “Thank you” to the many people who touch our lives, directly or indirectly. Hopefully, we’ve remembered to respond to those who have thanked us with a warm, sincere “You’re welcome.”
How would we say “You’re welcome” in another language? As Southern Californians, our first thought is probably of the Spanish response “De nada,” which literally means “It’s nothing.” The same idea is behind the Hebrew “Ain dabar” and the French “De rien.” Other languages use words that indicate the expression of thanks was not needed or expected, such as the Mandarin “Bu kuh chee,” “No need to be polite,” or the Australian “No worries, mate.”
I think the German response is the most subtle and nuanced. The phrase for expressing gratitude is “Danke Schoen.” “Danke,” of course, means “Thanks.” The other word, “shoen” is the common word for “lovely,” “beautiful” or “handsome.” So the person saying this is bestowing on the other “beautiful thanks,” or “thanks wrapped in a beautiful package.”
So, what’s the German “You’re welcome” response to this? It’s “Bitte schoen.” The “schoen” idea is repeated, continuing the complimentary mood of the exchange. But what does the “Bitte” mean? Surprisingly, “Bitte” is the common word for saying “please” when asking for something? The idea seems to be that, when a person is thanked, the gracious response is, “No, please, I beg you to take it; you’re doing me a favor.”
I’ve run across an even more effusive German way of saying “You’re welcome” by adding two words: “Bitte schoen noch etwas.” The “noch etwas” means “anything else,” or “Is there anything else I can give you? Is there anything else I can do for you?” That makes the “Bitte schoen” not the end of an old interaction, but the beginning of a new, open-ended relationship.
Our most profound Thanksgiving Day expressions are, of course, to God. Is there any way in which God responds with a “You’re welcome”? I don’t see how God could say “It’s nothing,” when his primary gift to us has been the sacrifice of his Son for our sins. Nor is it likely that he would say “No need to thank me,” when he has made it clear that praising him for his blessings is the primary purpose of our lives.
I can almost hear God responding to those who have thanked him “Bitte schoen noch etwas” — “No, please, I beg you to accept my blessings; is there anything else? Anything?”
“He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not also with him give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32)