Thursday, November 27, 2008

Grateful When Some Questions Aren't Answered

"Let us therefore give thanks not only for blessings which we see, but also for those which we see not, and for those which we receive against our will. For many are the blessings He bestows upon us, without our desire, without our knowledge. And if ye believe me not, I will at once proceed to make the case clear to you. For consider, I pray, do not the impious and unbelieving Gentiles ascribe everything to the sun and to their idols? But what then? Doth He not bestow blessings even upon them? Is it not the work of His providence, that they both have life, and health, and children, and the like? And again they that are called Marcionites, and the Manichees, do they not even blaspheme Him? But what then? Does He not bestow blessings on them every day? Now if He bestows blessings on them that know them not, much more does he bestow them upon us. For what else is the peculiar work of God if it be not this, to do good to all mankind, alike by chastisements and by enjoyments? Let us not then give thanks only when we are in prosperity, for there is nothing great in this. And this the devil also well knows, and therefore he said, 'Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast Thou not made an hedge about him and about all that he hath on every side? Touch all that he hath; no doubt, he will renounce Thee to Thy face!' However, that cursed one gained no advantage; and God forbid he should gain any advantage of us either; but whenever we are either in penury, or in sicknesses, or in disasters, then let us increase our thanksgiving; thanksgiving, I mean, not in words, nor in tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart. Let us give thanks unto Him with all our souls. For He loves us more than our parents; and wide as is the difference between evil and goodness, so great is the difference between the love of God and that of our fathers. And these are not my words, but those of Christ Himself Who loveth us....The ungrateful, however, and unfeeling say, that this were worthy of God’s goodness, that there should be an equality amongst all. Tell me, ungrateful mortal, what sort of things are they which thou deniest to be of God’s goodness, and what equality meanest thou? 'Such an one,' thou wilt say, 'has been a cripple from his childhood; another is mad, and is possessed; another has arrived at extreme old age, and has spent his whole life in poverty; another in the most painful diseases: are these works of Providence? One man is deaf, another dumb, another poor, whilst another, impious, yea, utterly impious, and full of ten thousand vices, enjoys wealth, and keeps concubines, and parasites, and is owner of a splendid mansion, and lives an idle life.' And many instances of the sort they string together, and weave a long account of complaint against the providence of God....For why does it concern thee, if such an one is blind, or such an one poor? God hath not commanded thee to look to this, but to what thou thyself art doing. For if on the one hand thou doubtest that there is any power superintending the world, thou art of all men the most senseless; but if thou art persuaded of this, why doubt that it is our duty to please God?...Go to the physician’s, and thou wilt see him, whenever a man is discovered to have a wound, using the knife and the cautery. But no, in thy case, I say not so much as this; but go to the carpenter’s. And yet thou dost not examine his reasons, although thou understandest not one of the things which are done there, and many things will appear to thee to be difficulties; as, for instance, when he hollows the wood, when he alters its outward shape. Nay, I would bring thee to a more intelligible craft still, for instance, that of the painter, and there thy head will swim. For tell me, does he not seem to be doing what he does, at random? For what do his lines mean, and the turns and bends of the lines? But when he puts on the colors, then the beauty of the art will become conspicuous. Yet still, not even then wilt thou be able to attain to any accurate understanding of it. But why do I speak of carpenters, and painters, our fellow-servants? Tell me, how does the bee frame her comb, and then shalt thou speak about God also. Master the handiwork of the ant, the spider, and the swallow, and then shalt thou speak about God also. Tell me these things. But no, thou never canst. Wilt thou not cease then, O man, thy vain enquiries? For vain indeed they are. Wilt thou not cease busying thyself in vain about many things? Nothing so wise as this ignorance, where they that profess they know nothing are wisest of all, and they that spend overmuch labor on these questions, the most foolish of all. So that to profess knowledge is not everywhere a sign of wisdom, but sometimes of folly also. For tell me, suppose there were two men, and one of them should profess to stretch out his lines, and to measure the expanse that intervenes between the earth and heaven, and the other were to laugh at him, and declare that he did not understand it, tell me, I pray, which should we laugh at, him that said he knew, or him that knew not? Evidently, the man that said that he knew. He that is ignorant, therefore, is wiser than he that professes to know. And what again? If any one were to profess to tell us how many cups of water the sea contains, and another should profess his ignorance, is not the ignorance here again wiser than the knowledge? Surely, vastly so. And why so? Because that knowledge itself is but intense ignorance. For he indeed who says that he is ignorant, knows something. And what is that? That it is incomprehensible to man. Yes, and this is no small portion of knowledge. Whereas he that says he knows, he of all others knows not what he says he knows, and is for this very reason utterly many things are there to teach us to bridle this unseasonable impertinence and idle curiosity; and yet we refrain not, but are curious about the lives of others; as, why one is a cripple, and why another is poor. And so by this way of reasoning we shall fall into another sort of trifling which is endless, as, why such an one is a woman? and, why all are not men? why there is such a thing as an ass? why an ox? why a dog? why a wolf? why a stone? why wood? and thus the argument will run out to an interminable length. This in truth is the reason, why God has marked out limits to our knowledge, and has laid them deep in nature....And so then let us only 'give thanks for all things.' 'Wherefore,' says he, 'give thanks for all things.' This is the part of a well-disposed, of a wise, of an intelligent servant; the opposite is that of a tattler, and an idler, and a busy-body. Do we not see amongst servants, that those among them who are worthless and good for nothing, are both tattlers, and triflers and that they pry into the concerns of their masters, which they are desirous to conceal: whereas the intelligent and well-disposed look to one thing only, how they may fulfill their service....Tell me, now, which is the widest difference, between our age and that of children, or between God and men? between ourselves compared with gnats, or God compared with us? Plainly between God and us. Why then dost thou busy thyself to such an extent in all these questions? 'Give thanks for all things.' 'But what,' say you, 'if a heathen should ask the question? How am I to answer him? He desires to learn from me whether there is a Providence, for he himself denies that there is any being thus exercising foresight.' Turn round then, and ask him the same question thyself. He will deny therefore that there is a Providence. Yet that there is a Providence, is plain from what thou hast said; but that it is incomprehensible, is plain from those things whereof we cannot discover the reason. For if in things where men are the disposers, we oftentimes do not understand the method of the disposition, and in truth many of them appear to us inconsistent, and yet at the same time we acquiesce, how much more will this be so in the case of God? However, with God nothing either is inconsistent, or appears so to the faithful. Wherefore let us 'give thanks for all things,' let us give Him glory for all things." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Ephesians, 19)


  1. This is an easy prayer for those of us in the States who spend much of our lives surrounded with ease, fortune and abundance. Perhaps you should go live in Africa, have both your parents die of AIDS or slaughtered by militants in front of your eyes, live with little or no food and suffer from dysentery, malnutrition, malaria and/or chronic HIV infection with no treatment and let me know what your prayer sounds like then.

  2. James,

    Why do you so often post responses without giving much thought to what you’re responding to and without giving much thought to your own position? And when people respond to your comments, you often leave the thread without any attempt to interact with what they’ve said. You ignore so much of the evidence against your own belief system, misrepresent the beliefs of Christians, raise objections against those misrepresentations, and expect Christians to answer your questions and address your concerns while you so frequently ignore questions or arguments raised against your position. If you want to keep posting, you need to act more responsibly. Your behavior doesn’t speak well for your character or your belief system.

    What I quoted from John Chrysostom isn’t a prayer. And Chrysostom wasn’t among “those of us in the States who spend much of our lives surrounded with ease, fortune and abundance”. Americans have many advantages, but they have some disadvantages as well, and some of the difficulties of life are experienced even in the most prosperous nations. Nothing you’ve said proves that Chrysostom’s comments are inappropriate in his context or mine. Why don’t you explain what point you think I was making by quoting Chrysostom and explain how your comments allegedly are relevant?