On thanking God

In the Bible, Christians are told to be thankful. Sometimes Christians blame themselves or one another for not being thankful enough. More startling, however, are the times when nonChristians complain that Christians are too thankful.

A friend of mine at church has mentioned this situation more than once. When she expresses her gratitude to God for some small blessing, a coworker accuses her of being arrogant. If she has prayed for something—such as good weather for an outdoor event, for example—and what she requested happens, her coworker says it was just coincidence. This coworker insists that thinking that God manages the weather according to our requests shows extreme arrogance and a self-centered nature.

This week a WordPress friend of mine had a similar experience. Authentically Aurora describes in this post how a parking spot appeared to her benefit at the end of a trying day. She regards that event as an answer to prayer, and she expresses her thankfulness to God. That post leads to an interesting conversation in the comment section in which another poster suggests that in a world filled with suffering and misery, thanking God for a parking spot is petty and strange.

I added my two cents worth to the comments there, but I wanted to expand my words to a nickel’s worth of pondering. A nonChristian may struggle with this thought, but God is real, and he has a genuine interest in every human being. God knows everything, he can do anything, and he is eternal, without beginning or end. Unlimited by time, he can pay intimate attention to every human being. Jesus assures his followers that God knows even the number of hairs on each of our heads. If God remembers that number and keeps track of that number—especially for those of us with diminishing numbers that change each day—surely a parking spot or a sunny afternoon is not too small for God to handle.

But sometimes it rains, even upon church picnics. Isn’t a sunny afternoon merely a coincidence unrelated to any Christian’s prayers? Whether or not that is the case, I see nothing wrong with praying about what we want, even about the weather. More to the point, I see nothing wrong with thanking God when good things come our way. Lack of gratitude would be highly inappropriate in a Christian who believes that every good gift comes from God and that we all were created to thank, praise, serve, and obey God.

Why, then, do Christians not solve all the world’s problems through prayer? Why not ask for enough food for every person so that no one would starve? Why not ask for an end to all wars? Why not ask that all people be protected from floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters? Christians do, in fact, pray such prayers. God does provide enough food on this planet to feed everyone living here—if some people do not have enough, that is the fault of people who have more than enough but who refuse to share what they have. Only God knows how many wars God has prevented or shortened, how many disasters God has withheld or reduced in power, or how many ways God provided other kinds of help when he chose to permit poverty and war and other calamities.

I’ve addressed the complex problem of why God allows any problems at all to happen here. In summary, God allows suffering so we see the true face of evil and prefer to turn to the good. Moreover, God has entered the world and endured suffering himself, taking on himself the consequences of evil so he can share with us the consequences of his perfect goodness. As I commented to Aurora, it saddens me when people will blame the-God-in-whom-they-do-not-believe for the world’s problems, and then they criticize believers when we thank God for good things.

I don’t expect ever to win the lottery. Chances of winning are slim for those who buy lottery tickets; they are slimmer yet for people like me who do not buy lottery tickets. I have imagined, though, what I would do should I happen to win the lottery—perhaps one day I will pick up a scrap of paper in the grocery parking lot that turns out to be a multi-million dollar winner, or perhaps a lottery ticket as a gag gift at a workplace Christmas party will turn out to be the winner. I’ve considered writing a novel based on my fantasies of winning the lottery, and in that novel my character would thank God publicly for the blessing. He would do so very carefully, trying not to offend anyone. He would make it clear that he does not believe that he was given a winning ticket because he deserves it more than all the other people who bought lottery tickets. He would regard the blessing of much money as an opportunity and obligation to do good things with that money and to use it to help people in need. But still he would be thankful. He would say, “I thank God when the weather is good. I thank him for green lights on the way home from work. I thank him every day for my wife and for my children. This does not mean I think that I am better than people who endure bad weather, people who are stopped by a string of red lights, or people who are unmarried or childless. I thank God for my health and for the blessing to live in a land of relative peace and safety, but this does not mean that I think I am better than people who are ill or people who live in war-torn lands. I would be an ungrateful wretch if I did not thank God for the good things that I have. In that spirit I thank him for this gift, and I ask him for the wisdom to spend it properly.”

As a Christian, I look to my Father in heaven for all good things. I ask for good things for myself, and I ask for good things for other people. When good things happen, I am grateful. I don’t thank God as much as he deserves for the good things I have received and for the many ways I have been protected from evil. And I confess that I do grumble at times about the problems that I have, small as they are compared to other people in this world. Among the many gracious qualities of God is his loving willingness to overlook my flaws and to accept my tiny expressions of thanks and praise. I await the ability to thank and praise him in a better way when I meet him face-to-face. J.

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3 thoughts on “On thanking God

  1. Hey there!

    I’m an atheist, so I can actually comment on the non-Christian perspective you’re opining on (if I may).

    First off, I get that it sometimes seems like a person is trying to rail against your deity while simultaneously saying that deity doesn’t exist. However, that’s not exactly what’s going on. In the conversation that you linked to, the non-Christian user was exploring the idea of the deity actually existing for the sake of argument. If that person was being more clear, he or she would have said, “Assuming your deity exists, my point then follows that… .” It’s not being disingenuous; it’s taking the OP’s thought to a logical conclusion.

    Secondly, the opposition isn’t to gratitude itself. Rather, it’s to displaying the alleged answered prayer in public. In that light, it comes off as bragging. While I understand that is not the intent of such posts, I invite you to consider the potential consequences of such posts on Christians who pray constantly and don’t get answers. Why is it that writers of such posts get what they want, but others don’t get what they need? On a long enough timeline, that question is going to get asked. For what it’s worth, you’re going to need a better answer than people preferring “to turn to the good.” They already have, otherwise they wouldn’t be praying their hearts and minds out.

    Apologies for leaving a long comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment. I quite agree with your perception that thankfulness for a blessing–whether a large or small blessing–can sound like bragging to others, especially others in need. Too often religious people sound as if they feel that they receive good things because they are good and others do not receive good things because they are not good. The book of Job and several of the Psalms counter this teaching. I don’t think, though, that the correction to this problem is not expressing thanks. Perhaps it is humble acknowledgement that “I don’t deserve this, but thank you for the gift all the same.”
      I understand your point about exploring the possibility of God’s existence for the sake of argument. However, I have found that if I ask an atheist to describe the god in which he or she does not believe, I can honestly reply to their answer that I don’t believe in that god either. Again, thank you for reading and for commenting. J.

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  2. Yes, I agree, sometimes I receive good from the hand of the Lord because I prayed and trusted. I thank him for those times. Sometimes benefits from the prayers of others overflow to my good. I thank him. Sometimes I receive good things just because good things are happening to most everyone, such as nice weather. Can I properly thank him for that also? You bet I can, and I do. Would a child thank his father for the opportunity of living in a comfortable house, although the father really bought the house for himself without his child in mind? The child certainly should thank his father for the opportunity to share in that blessing. I thank Him for all things knowing that all things he allows are for my benefit. Some things are easier to be thankful for than others. When sufferings happen, I have to square my shoulders and remember that my Father knows and he will see me through and I’m thankful.

    Liked by 1 person

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