For the Love of Adverbs

Michael Metzger

God loveth adverbs.
After watching his Detroit Pistons basketball team fall behind the Miami Heat three games to one on Tuesday evening, head coach Flip Saunders noted “Right now, we’re not functioning very good…” That may be true, but I wonder if Saunders’ intention was to discuss the Pistons’ virtue. By using an adjective where an adverb was called for, Saunders inadvertently described the team’s morality rather than how well it performed.

Saunders’ slip represents a cultural trend – the eclipse of adverbs. Remember Macintosh’s ad of a few years back: Think Different? Or how about this line I heard on NPR & CNN: The trial started bad for Zacarias Moussaoui? If you tune in, you’ll regularly hear ESPN commentators remarking, “The team is really playing good.”

Adverbs might not be a Big Deal to you, but it’s worth noting that God likes them. In fact, the Puritan Joseph Hall wrote “God loveth adverbs.” But the Lord’s affection has less to do with respecting proper grammar and more with a profound understanding of our work. In other words, adverbs help us connect Sunday to Monday.

To understand why adverbs connect, we have to go back to early church history when leaders like Augustine, Aquinas, and Eusebius disconnected Sunday from Monday by describing two types of work – “perfect” and “permitted.” The perfect occupations included livelihoods such as monks, nuns, and priests. These who filled these roles “had a calling” and did good work. The permitted occupations were of a lower order. Soldiers, farmers, and businesspeople did what was necessary to keep life and limb together. Not so good. If anyone became earnest about their faith, they were encouraged to join the ranks of professional clergyman and get into “full-time Christian ministry.”

This division disconnected Sunday from Monday by making “church work” more important. As a result, “For many of us who work, there exists an exasperating discontinuity between how we see ourselves as persons and how we see ourselves as workers,” writes Max De Pree, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, Inc., and a member of Fortune magazine’s National Business Hall of Fame. “We need to eliminate that sense of discontinuity and to restore a sense of coherence in our lives.”

That’s exactly what Martin Luther did in 1521, when he penned a refutation of Eusebius. Luther, correctly, I believe, argued that all work is holy work when he wrote “…God himself will milk the cows through him whose vocation that is. He who engages in the lowliness of his work performs God’s work, be he lad or king…” Luther maintained that the work of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker was no less God’s work than the work of the priest. Since all work is equally good, Puritan Joseph Hall, rightly pointed out the better question is how well we perform our tasks.

The homeliest service that we doe in an honest calling, though it be but to plow or digge, if done in obedience, and conscience of God’s Commandments, is crowned with an ample reward; whereas the best workes for their kinde (preaching, praying, offering Evangelicall sacrifices) if without respect of God’s injunction and glory, are loaded with curses. God loveth adverbs; and cares not how good, but how well.1

If you think this is pie-in-the-sky religion, consider that this viewpoint contributed to the American colonies surpassing European standards of living by 1740. This Protestant work ethic, derived from the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition, held that all work is good. It is virtuous, holy, and moral. That’s why God loves adverbs – he wants us to do whatever we do well, to the best of our abilities. And the best way to encourage this unified vision for work is to use adverbs.

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1Joseph Hall, Holy Observations, XIV, 1607

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