When we praise God for something what are we doing? When we thank God for a positive outcome and praise God for that outcome what are we meaning? What are we attributing to God.
These were some of the general questions I recently dealt with in a spiritual direction session with a directee. Praising God for God’s character made sense, and being thankful also made sense to the directee, but when it came to particularities, things got messy. So many factors, in becoming healthy, or a healing, who or what is responsible, one’s own body, one’s own initiative in taking health inducing activities?
There is a desire to give thanksgiving and praise, even so the question haunts: for what are we thanking God, and is there reason to praise God for outcome X if we can’t be sure that God is the cause of that outcome?
This anxiety over praise and thanksgiving is in part a fear of idolatry, but also feeling that to praise or thank God truly we must find God and only God to be the cause of the situation or scenario for which we give thanks and praise. The concern over the idolatrous act has some truth to it though more than simply idolatry may be at work. However, I’d argue it is misplaced to think of praise and thanksgiving to God as requiring a causal link between God and situation and event over which one is giving praise.
Though, I actually wonder if such anxieties over praising God and their legitimacy, is really a failure to be fully immersed in the language and experience of the Psalms. Praise and thanksgiving in the Psalms is varied and often also paired with lament. Praise and thanksgiving are then complex. Praise and thanksgiving are about a particular situation, about the nature of God, and the relationship the psalmist has from God.
Sitting with the whole of the Psalms, I suggest that our anxiety around giving praise and thanksgiving to God for particular situations and “good fortune” (or is it “grace”, that is gift) occurs when we think praise and thanksgiving to be only in response to having received or experienced a desirable or good outcome. Praise and thanksgiving over a particular situation is properly connected to who God is and one’s relationship to God.
Praise is relational, and is a response to the gift that is Given. This donation will include any and all good things that happen to one who is in relationship to God. This gift is not eliminated or negated by tragic or lamentable situations and suffering, thus praise and thanksgiving are part of lament, and aren’t merely celebratory responses.
Though praise and thanksgiving are also ecstatic celebrations that comes from personally knowing and encountering not only one’s own maker but the source of the entire cosmos.
When we are in relationship to God, our knowledge of God and our relation to God is found in praise of the character of God. This is without regard to situation or suffering, thus lament is also praise. Since we are in relation to that which is the ultimate source of all that is Good, any good thing is an occasion for celebrating in God’s presence, that is in the expression of praise and thanksgiving in the wake of a fortunate situation, even if we can’t directly link God’s action to the immediate outcome over which we are celebrating.