For What Are We Thankful? Is that ALL?
Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to His cross
You, LORD, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. 6 How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are! 7 I praise the LORD, because he guides me, and in the night my conscience warns me. 8 I am always aware of the LORD’S presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. Psalm 16:5-8 (TEV)
For instance, it is very common to find, even under the formulas of impeccable orthodoxy, a raffishly Promethean spirituality which is avid not so much for God as for “spiritual perfection.” The language of prayer in such cases may be the language of the most consummate humility. Grace becomes everything. Nature is worse than nothing: it is an abhorrent nothing. And yet such a spirituality may be completely self-centred. Its orientation can be directly opposed to the true orientation of Christianity. Instead of being the fulfilment of a Christian finding himself in God through the charity and selflessness of Jesus Christ, it becomes the rebellion of a Promethean soul who is trying to raid heaven and steal the divine fire for its own glorification. What Prometheus wants is not the glory of God but his own perfection. He has forgotten the terrible paradox that the only way we become perfect is by leaving ourselves, and, in a certain sense, forgetting our own perfection, to follow Christ.
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task. The cosmic conflict between good and evil is joined; chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab. In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar; he doesn’t perspire; he doesn’t shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”
Melville’s sentence is a text to set alongside the psalmist’s “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10), and alongside Isaiah’s “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).
As I have scrolled through social media today, I have seen a lot of people express that they are thankful for this, and thankful for that. Some are thankful for the relationships of friends and family. Some are more honest, and are thankful for a day off, where some family members work harder than they would on a work day! Others are thankful for health, and yet others–missing those they love–are thankful for the time they did have together.
Some even added a religious tone to their thanks, thanking God for this country, or for their religious freedom. After all, most picture Thanksgiving as Pilgrims and Indians, gathered around a table, free from the horrible religious controls that saw the Puritans leave England, hoping for freedom to practice their brand of Christianity, rather than following the flavor of King James. Some may even remember to thank God for the cross,
With this in the back of my mind, I came to Merton and Peterson’s heavy words, and they resonated enough that I had to think through them more deeply than the norm. It is not the most sophisticated systematic theology I have encountered. Even so, they are incredibly deep thoughts, and require more context than I include. But the thought is similar in each, a search for something more
The concept gets to what we should be thankful for, more than anything else.
with God the Father Almighty, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
It is what Merton’s Prometheus couldn’t find, the reason he had to try and steal fire, he had to steal purity. Salvation was the end of the journey in his quest, without God. Which is, I am afraid, all to common these days, especially among those who are interested in theology and apologetics. We’ve done this for decades, chasing after the ultimate apologetic, and placing justification up as our idol, all but omitting its compatriot, Sanctification. We reversed the old Right Praise (Orthodoxy) leads to Right Doctrine and Right Practice. Preaching becomes more important hearing the word, and more important than communion with God in those incarnational, sacramental moments that reveal the greatest truth–God desires and made possible a relationship where He is our God, and we are His people.
It was what Peterson saw as Ahab’s strength, the ability to focus more on what was important than the evil storm, or the evil Leviathan. Not sure Ahab knew that was what he was doing, but by resting he could fulfil his role, his destiny. We need a similar focus on those times with God, those moments we experience His acceptance of us, and His presence in our lives.
This is what our life is about, it is who we are…
That is, more than anything else, what we need to be thankful for…
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 23.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 33.
Posted on November 24, 2022, in Devotions. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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