Saturday, January 02, 2021


Gratitude, Admiration, and Praise are not quite the same thing.  The  latter two are an outgrowth of the first, showing a better understanding. We see the distinction clearly in the little things of everyday actions. Thank you for coming to pick me up is a simple graciousness. You had to go out of your way shows a little more understanding of the true situation. Telling someone else that Gerry is a self-sacrificing person is one step further. We praise children, and there are shadings along the way of how much we get it, how much we have really thought about and understood what is happening.  Congratulations on winning the science fair. You demonstrated the principle well. You have a talent for making science concepts clear. Not that we don't do the same thing with adults, but real compliments come from showing that one understands.  It is one thing to say you have a beautiful voice, but even better to say you really know how to interpret a song. At least, that kind of "I've been paying attention and have thought about this" compliment is the kind I like best to hear, and the ones I try to give.

I don't think I make this distinction anywhere near clear enough in prayer. I am pretty good at the gratitude part, of thank you for bringing us to this day in good health, or even You have blessed us beyond what we deserve, but I don't automatically go to the next step of You are a gracious God. It shows I still don't quite get it. The scriptures certainly tell us to be grateful, to "give thanks in all circumstances," but more often draw us on to the next step. "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.

CS Lewis wrote about this in The Abolition of Man, which is more about natural law than specific to Christianity, that in recognising the nature of a thing, especially its virtue (or lack thereof), quite naturally prompts an expression of it. When we hear a beautiful song we want to share it with others.  We tell others about the taste of the wine we have discovered, the charm of the woman we have fallen in love with, or the explanatory value of a theory we have learned. It is a natural completion of the act of understanding. 

When the scriptures tell us to Praise the Lord, they are not simply telling us to write a polite thank-you note or give him automatic compliments, but to show that we understand.  We get it. He has done great things. He is a merciful God. Our reason for existence, according to the Baltimore Catechism* 

6. Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

 First, to know, and the second two are an outgrowth of that. Relatedly, Lewis notes 

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic. (C.S. Lewis God in the Dock "Answers to Questions on Christianity” 1944)

 What we are in is a school, then, though many Christians of other eras have chosen the analogy of prison as even closer to the truth.  I live in kindly times, and have had great fortune.  It would be artificial for me to claim my life here is a prison.  Though I suppose if it is, then I am showing I still don't fully understand.

*I understand this is no longer what is used. 

1 comment:

james said...

The current catechism seems to spread things out a bit: sections 356 and 358 looks like the equivalent.