Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On When and How to Thank God

I saw this meme over on the Naked Pastor and it struck a chord with me. Over the years I have struggled with knowing how or if to give thanks to God for what I perceive to be blessings in my life. I hear people who act as if God has answered everything that they ever asked for. And on the one hand I am happy for them and want to join them in thanking God.

I have heard people thank God for giving them a job just before their last pay check ran out. They thank God for giving them a child when they were just about to give up. They thank God for healing them or a loved one. And some thank God for what appears to be quite trivial matters. They thank God for finding them a parking space at the market or helping them to find a good deal on a new computer. “It was certainly the Lord at work,” they say, “how else can we explain the way that everything worked out.

And then I think about all of the people that do not get their prayers answered. The person who doesn’t get a job and is now living homeless. The couple who are never given a child or, as in the meme, the person who does not see a loved one healed or spared.

I also wonder about people living in poorer, oppressed economies who pray the same prayers and yet God does not seem to answer their prayers. I wonder how I can be thankful to God for hearing my prayer for say a job or to heal me of a minor aliment, but they are asking God to give them their next meal, a drink of water or protection from their enemies.

I wonder if God only hears my prayers and not theirs or if my socio-economic situation is really what is helping me and not God.  Numerous times my wife and I have been provided for and directed in ways that seem to only be explainable as divine providence.  But then I consider all of those who live in circumstances less fortunate than me and I wonder if God has anything to do with it and whether it is more a result of my being a white, middle class American. 

In the end I tend to be thankful for what I have, but I also am a bit shy of giving God direct credit as in “look what God did for me” because it is hard for me to understand let alone explain why God didn’t do it for someone else. This meme does a good job at illustrating the paradox I feel.

How about you? Do you ever experience or think about this tension and how do you deal with it if at all?


  1. John, a couple thoughts.

    First, you're making a few assumptions here. One that God's financial provision for you is somehow better than the poorer person. You don't really know what God is busy doing in their life. It could be miraculous, even if it does not equal a house in the 'burbs. And yes, it's nice to have money, but it's not always better in the view of eternity.

    Second, I think it becomes much easier to thank God in all situations when we get some sense of who God is. When we're focusing on Him we become more thankful, even if it's just for His existence, for His nature, for His love. When we're focused on ourselves, I think we tend to wonder why we're not blessed more, less or whatever.

    Sure, we all struggle with our personal situations and some of them are really tough, like not being able to have a child or watching a loved one die. But, this is a broken world and even more so why we keep our eyes on God.

    1. Are you arguing that intercessory prayer is inappropriate?

    2. Cadmus,

      I must admit that I have a hard time reconciling God doing something in someone's life versus my house in the burbs. I am not sure someone being homeless because of rotten luck becomes easier because God is doing something in their life. And I do wonder about justice and equality. I do wonder why one person can thank God for giving them a great business deal while the person starving to death doesn't answer the prayer. Can God work in all of these situations, certainly I am not suggesting otherwise. But the fact is it is hard to understand why God would chose to heal one and not the other, if that in fact is what is happening.

      I am thankful and as I noted above there are times I scratch my head and suspect it is God. But I wonder why God would hear my prayer more than that of someone else.


    3. Maybe God would hear your prayer more because you are in touch with him - and because he knows you are in a position to dispense answers to the prayer of some others....

      I'm sure I read a quote somewhere with the person saying to God "Look at the mess the world's in. Why don't you do something?" And God says "I did do something. I made you". For me that is the real challenge....not why God doesn't do more.

    4. John, a couple things.

      First, when you create the comparison of your life and the starving/dying person it's hard to really deal with that because we're not looking at two specific and unique instances. You are unique and specific. The starving/dying person, although there are many in the world this very instant, is not specific. It's an idea. So, my point was just we don't know and should not assume what God is doing or not doing in *any* specific person's life, even if they are in the process of starving/dying. Especially if they are a follower of God. For all we know they are full of joy and peace as they starve to death. And, you might be full of angst and worry sitting in your nice home.

      Second, my other point was based on God's response to Job. Basically, who are we to question? I know that response offends our post-modern sensibilities, but I think in light of who God is, and who we are, it's an appropriate response. It's not dogmatic or trite. We're not such a big deal and sometimes we just need to bow down and accept that we don't know everything, everything is not going to make sense and many things will have to be a mystery to us.

      Of course, to wonder, to question, to seek are all good. But, there's a fine line that we seem to cross all the time from wondering and seeking to challenging God.

      Theodicy indeed.

  2. Wow! Thanks for being so honest.

    As a non-believer, this is one of the issues (a branch of theodicy?) that keeps me away from faith. Apologetic responses to this are invariably superficial.

    It is a sign of wisdom to avoid the temptation to adopt easy answers here. The faith of believers seems to survive most failures of prayer but the thoughtful Christian should probably place prayer on their list answers that will be provided at a later date.

  3. This is something I struggle with. In a similar way, I've seen friends "accept" that their grief and suffering is also from God. A friend recently posted on Facebook after their laptop was stolen that God has a reason for stripping them of everything recently. . . as if this were all part of God's plan for her.

    Because of these struggles, I have a hard time with prayer... as if ... what's the point.

    1. God can be swayed from causing hardships, think moses protecting the israelites from His wrath, but He does have a divine plan for us. I can see why you would have a hard time praying after what happened to your friend, but try to remember that God could be causing someone hardships to test them like with Job, or maybe he wants them to stoop down from their position to help someone else. I went from having three vicious dogs, all of which broke my heart when i was forced to give them up, to having a basset hound who showed up at my back door just when i thought he was gone forever. Looking back on all those struggles I think God wanted me to give as well as receive the joy that comes with being near and that's why he sent Benny back to me. We are now in training to become a therapy team.

  4. I feel that God is so generous that he does not hold himself back from blessing me even when I could be doing much more to bless others. I think he is equally keen to shower me with love when I am like the elder brother.

    But I also incresingly think that I ought to be seeling things I don't need and making every sacrifice I can (wihtout impoverishing myself). If I have somethign precious I like to hold it lightly and when the time comes to pass the blessing on to others i like to be free just to do so - like to give others a favourite possession that I much enjoy when I can see that they would much enjoy it too.

    I think as a professor you are able to give a lot in ways bless people that you might not even be aware of. A kindness here or there, attention, inviting people to things... I think a person's wealth is not just their money but things like their influence, their gifts of the spirit, their time... I often wish I could live in a culture where I didn't have to pay to heat my home...because then I could live much more freely, but as it is we seem to need more money for stuff like that...

  5. It would seem to me that humility before the Almighty might want to lose the dogmatism in details and simply trust that "in all things God can work for the good" (Rom. 8:28). Specific claims of knowing precisely what God is doing, given a situation, might be tempered with an imagination that sees the possibilities, rather than emphatic assertions that God is all about ME and my needs. I too have those thoughts about the justice of those who continue to suffer while God works daily to assure my life remains uncomplicated. Thanks for your transparency in addressing the issue.

  6. Pretending to have the answers to everything is like playing God. Ultimately the will of God gets done. I have discovered that everything gives God glory in one way or the other. It is the same whether we live in affluence or in abject poverty, in health or in sickness, etc. The difference as the meme above depicts is our response to the situation. I think we should try and develop an attitude of gratitude, help where we can, and move on. God knows what He is doing.

  7. Here's how I look at it. God loves each and every one of us, right? He's got a plan for our lives. Whether or not that plan agrees with ours doesn't make his plan any less right. He LOVED US. HE LOVES US. HE WILL LOVE US FOREVER. It's our job to mold to him. Not the other way around, after all, who was made is whoes image?(-;

  8. Wow, it is nice to know that we have people who ponder the thought of God's goodness. Everyone's life is different and I for one am not one to judge, but in the end life is full of pain and goodness, we can all learn from him.

  9. After reading this post, my first thought was, "Those suffering right now are definitely the luckier ones because God has something better in store for them." But then, thinking about it more, I realized that even though I knew that, I wouldn't dare ask God to give me their lot because I wouldn't want to experience such suffering here on earth. Personally, I've more or less stepped back from questioning why the world is so unfair. Obviously, there is such a stark difference between the rich and the poor of the world that one can't help but wonder about it. But I've reconciled myself with this answer: that God is a Teacher (as every Christian knows). Being omniscient and omnipotent, He is able to personalize our lessons as He sees fit and according to what His infinite Wisdom dictates. (I suppose it's not a suitable enough answer for everyone, but it's enough for me.) However, the picture above does evoke in me another reaction. I suppose my problem is not the nagging sense of indignation caused by the world's partiality but the absurd feeling of guilt. Something akin to the feeling of a child when both he and his brother asked for something from their father and he was the only one who received it. The guilt felt when you know for a fact that the both of you worked equally hard to finish the chores around the house just to make the father more inclined to give you what you want. The guilt felt when you love your brother and want to make him happy but the only way to do it is to let go of your prized gift, but you just couldn't bring yourself to give up that gift!

    I grew up around the idea of God as our Father and we His children, but every now and then it still surprises me how fitting that description is to our relationship with God! However, I know that it is wrong to confine my idea of God as a Father using human perspectives. I'm not a parent but being the eldest sibling among four, I noticed how my parents tried their best to be fair to my two brothers who were only a year apart. They would get them matching shirts and shorts and shoes just so one would not complain that the other's possessions were better than theirs. I don't think God works that way though. His way would be more of, "I will give my child Peter blocks now because I know he loves to build. I would also give some books to Paul a bit later because I know how he loves the written word but he first needs to learn to take care of his things."

    A clever child would often know his parents' "tickle spots" or the way to please his parents, often to get what he wants. His room would be kept clean and the chores promptly carried out. But a wise Christian knows that God does not need bribes to be help Him decide whether to grant a request or not. He already knows whether something should be yours or not. Better yet, He knows when it should be yours and how to give to you.

    A pleased child would happily jump into his parents' arms and thank them for the gift. I grateful Christian would praise and thank God for His blessings. He would then proceed to share his gift with his brothers because he knows that this would make his Father very happy and pleased.

    (Sorry, it started out as a short opinion, but I suppose it became something akin to babbling.)