Lately, it’s struck a chord with me when I hear people thanking God. I’m not referring to the secular use of “Thank God,” when it’s used more as a cultural expression than meaning to address a deity. I’m referring to situations when people truly mean to thank the Christian God. Isn’t it good to be grateful and acknowledge the one “from whom all blessings flow?” Why, then, has it begun to unsettle me?
Honestly, I can’t exactly pinpoint what bothers me about it. So, instead of writing this post to make a point, I am writing it more as a collection of thoughts. Maybe you can find my point for me, and even better, add your own thoughts.
Certain “thank God” statements pull at me because we say it of situations where we have literally been given what has been taken away from others. Sometimes it’s thanking God for a newborn baby while others have lost children. Sometimes it’s thanking God for healing a loved one from a disease while there are so many other that suffer and die. Sometimes it’s thanking God for protecting us in a situation where others were not protected. It can feel like we are saying, “God did this for me/us because he is loving, and he loves us,” which makes the listener wonder why God didn’t do that for them. So maybe it’s the insensitivity of the people proclaiming their thankfulness? Maybe it’s the public nature of their proclamations? Maybe it’s that we usually only thank God when he does what we want him to?
(Tyler Huckabee wrote an excellent piece, relevant here: When “Isn’t God Good?” Isn’t Rhetorical. He describes a situation in which a young couple, pregnant with their first child, repeatedly exclaim, “Isn’t God good?” not realizing another young woman in the room recently had a miscarriage.)
Then, there are situations that are not of life-and-death consequence. Thank you, God, for my new job. Thank you for my fiance. Thank you for healing my cold before I have to give that speech. Thank you, God, for making what I want happen. How do we know those things are actually things that are good for us? What if our pursuit of that job was ill-motivated? What if we simply want to be married, and we are overlooking missing pieces in our relationship? What if our speech would actually have been better received if having a cold would have made us seem more human, more approachable? We assume that because we want things, they must be good and right. So if we get those things, God must have given them to us, and we thank him.
My former pastor used to point out that our use of prayer is often superstitious. We use it like throwing coins into a wishing well. If our wish is granted, I guess that means we thank the well. But God isn’t a well. And his provision and direction in our lives is rarely so straightforward.
Maybe a key here is that our thanks is usually about us. Do a quick google search for verses about being thankful. The overwhelming majority of the verses are about thanking God for who he is. Not all of them, but most of them. And then there’s the Lord’s prayer, which Jesus not-coincidentally recited just after denouncing the Pharisees who prayed loudly in the streets so that others might see them. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t include “thanking,” at least not in the way we use it. So maybe it’s the self-focused situation-specific nature of our thanks that rings a little hollow? Maybe it’s the disproportional amount of thanks compared to other types of prayer/interactions with God?
Like I said, these are just some things I’ve been thinking about. I believe being grateful is a good thing. I believe thanking God is a good thing. But I also sense something is askew about the way we are doing it.