Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Arrogance Of Thanking God

I'm running out of relevant photos. Here is possibly where God lives. 
I have many friends who, whenever things work out for them whether it be a stroke of good luck or good timing, thank God for putting everything in place for a happy outcome. I started to do this myself recently. The older I get the more I'm convinced of a higher power. Whatever the nature of this higher power is up for debate. I do believe though, that if you work for the good and if you are in tune with the universe and humanity within it, then it will will work for you and you will get your reward.

We want to make two trips to London in the coming year to visit family and celebrate various events (the exodus from Egypt being one of them ;~p). My mother had been urging me to book the flights for the first visit at least so that she could plan around it. I was holding off until October when I get paid for my summer courses and get a full salary for being back at school in September.

Ten days ago I got an email from Easyjet saying that bookings were now open through to next summer. I decided to take a look. If I booked for our second trip as well I might get really low prices for being so early. 

Prices for next year were very reasonable. Prices for the end of this year, less than three months away, not so much. So I went to check out Monarch. I found something cheaper but not enormously cheaper. I found the Monarch website confusing as I'm familiar with Easyjet, and I couldn't work out how to change the quoted prices from dollars to pounds. 

I suddenly realized that my credit card only gets paid from my bank account on the 10th of the month (in full so it's actually more like a debit card paid once a month). So I went back to Easyjet, paid the extra, and was confident that I'd not sacrificed the known and trusted to save about $70. And while I was at it I also booked for our second trip next year. 

I was wrong about the credit card. Apparently when you pay for something in foreign currency it gets paid straight away directly from the bank account. I went into big overdraft but put the week's worth of interest on the overdraft down to experience. 

Ten days later Monarch went bust and Easyjet prices have almost doubled. I spent over 1000 pounds on eight flights and, had I booked with Monarch, would have had to spend another almost 2000 pounds had we decided to go anyway - which we might not have done due to the cost. 

My first thought was to thank God. Well something made me 1. book early and 2. decide not to book with Monarch even though they were cheaper. Thank you God. God loves me. I please God and he takes care of me. Trust in God and all will work out for the good. Etc... etc...

However. There's always a 'but' isn't there. A friend of mine, a widow who lives modestly in order to be able to visit her children and grandchildren living abroad, booked a trip with Monarch only a few days before the closure. Her credit card company say they have already paid Monarch so there is nothing they can do (different rules from the UK possibly) and she's lost her money. 

What does that mean in terms of God? He loves me but hates her? Believe me, she's a lot more particular about the religious laws than I am. 

Elliot Jager, in his book The Pater, My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness, writes that he started to turn away from God when they couldn't have children. How could he love a mean God who would not bless he and his wife with a child when so many others, even less worthy others, are having families of 6, 7, or more children. And I remember thinking the same thing when I was single, childless, and approaching 40.

Jager's friend pointed out to him that he must have known childless couples before he found himself to be in this situation. He must have known people in the past who desperately wanted children but were unable to have. Of course he had. So why was God only a mean God when he didn't deliver for the Jagers but not when he didn't deliver for all the other worthy but sadly childless people? 

So then it's ok to thank God when you accidently leave your purse or your phone in a shop but then remember and run back to find it still sitting there on the bench in the fitting room. And it's good to thank God when you narrowly miss being knocked down by a motorcycle overtaking the car that stopped for you on the zebra crossing. And when you slip over in the street but only bruise your knee and scrape your hand but don't break your leg, thank God. 

But this doesn't make sense if you can't also thank God when you miss being affected by a tragedy that has struck others. If I were in Vegas last week and survived, should I thank God for sparing me? If He's so powerful why didn't he spare everyone? If He spared me, is it arrogant of me to believe myself to be more worthy than any of the other people there?

Of course you don't have to evoke specific events for this line of thought. It could apply to our very lives. Thank God I was born into a middle class, loving family, in the UK, at a time of peace and not into a starving village in Africa. What do you say to God about those children who were born in poor villages in Africa? 

I wish I had an answer but I don't. Every time I want to say, "Thank God," now, I feel guilty. If anyone has any insight on this I'd be very interested to hear it. The nearest philosophy I can come up with for some sort of explanation is from my friend's mother, Mrs Slifkin, who used to tell her children, "different people have different things." You can't argue with that. 

  

17 comments:

  1. I guess the first question would be why does X or Y measure their worth in such a specific thing? Followed shortly by why do people think life events are linear (and rather simple clear-cut) transactions like that. (I'm worthy therefore this should not happen to me or this should happen to me is nonsense at any closer look really.) To my mind if one starts thanking God, then logically speaking they should thank God for life with all it brings: for "good" things as for "bad" things since everything comes with two sides. As in your example, thank God you didn't book with Monarch so you didn't lose money, thank God you went into overdraft and so learnt about it. The arrogance is perhaps not in thanking God in itself, but in making that a conditional (a bit like some people do with children to get them to do what they want) rather than a simple act of reflection and gratitude for what happened (or didn't happen).

    Moreover, the original God was not all love and cuddles really, plenty of cruelty if one looks (arguably with some reason to it, but it's there). So this idea that "God is good = I get lucky/nice things/what I want" is rather modern. Possibly a better description -if one insists on this idea- might be "God is tough love - gives you what you need to grow, no matter how much it hurts you to go through it."

    In short: thanking (anyone and anything for that matter) is not arrogance; making it conditional and moreover considering that one really is able to evaluate fully what happens as it happens /immediately after is the arrogance. And in this latter case "thanking" is just the mask under such arrogance hides so that it's not held to account by others or/and by self.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very interesting. I like the tough love analogy and that we are not in a position to evaluate each separate event in terms of whether it is good for us or not. When I went into overdraft because the money went to Easyjet directly from my bank account and not on the 10th of October, I was a bit annoyed about it and 10 days later I was grateful. I know this is a simplistic example and you don't usually see it in 10 days. I agree with your thoughts on making your gratitude conditional thought it' hard not to.

      Delete
  2. Ah I understand this conundrum. I have thought and searched and tried to understand but I just don't. When people ask me why God allows people to suffer so cruelly, I honestly have no answer. All I know is that in my experience God can (and does) help you during your suffering. That's all I got and I know for many people that isn't an answer at all. When people try and explain God by saying that maybe I've sinned and that's why such and such is happening, I think of Job in the Bible. His friends said that, and they weren't right. Job was an honourable man, he did good, but he suffered horribly, senselessly. Why did he suffer? No idea. But then, if I did, wouldn't that make me all knowledgeable, kind of like God?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think part of the answer is that the bigger picture does not hinge on individual instances of good and bad luck. The whole picture is your life and what you make of it despite the hiccoughs along the way (and even when some of these are actually major tragedies).

      Delete
  3. Hi Rachel! This post struck a cord. With the recent Mexico earthquake, a relative's niece survived at that school that fell down. She literally ran out just in time. "A miracle", everybody said. Why weren't the other children spared though? I hate saying a miracle and thank God. I hate saying it since reading Primo Levi's description of selections at Auschwitz. He wrote about one non-selected inmate thanking God he hadn't been selected, while in the same barrack were those who had been. Sorry this is a terrible image, but it was the first time I reflected on thanking God for my good fortune. Having said that, I don't have an explanation either. I think Mrs Slifkin's is fitting, cruel perhaps but that's the way things are.
    As always, I enjoy your blog a lot! Lina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lina, I'm beginning to form an idea and greatly helped by these comments and others on facebook. Especially the notions of looking at your life as a whole and not a series of good and bad events, and not thanking only when it goes right. I'm not sure what you do when things go horribly wrong - find the good somehow I suppose and take comfort in that.

      Delete
  4. I have to admit - it's an interesting way of looking at things. I guess the answer might be - God decides, or it's all part of "his" master plan????
    I'd never thought of it as being arrogant to think that God preferred you or me over others but it actually makes sense in an odd way.
    I will say that I'm glad that things worked out for you in regards to the airline tickets - what a mess for all those people caught up in the Monarch fiasco. I hope that your friend gets her money back eventually - I can't understand why she won't when she was booking ahead of time - and VISA is touted as being very good at refunding money under these sorts of circumstances so I find it very odd - so sorry for her - what awful luck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As the first comment says, it's not linear. I get some good luck today and you get something next week. In the end you have to look at your whole life and even that is only a tiny part of the 'master plan'. I'm only thinking along these lines now after much discussion with friends and comments after this post.

      Delete
  5. Found this article - I know it's the UK law but thought it might give your poor friend some info regarding VISA:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4950266/Monarch-customers-paid-debit-cards-lose-out.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have different laws here and our credit cards are more like debit cards with a delayed payment once a month. My friend is tuned in to the procedures here if there are any.

      Delete
  6. I have always said that I believe in a higher power, an order to the Universe as a whole, while admitting that it is difficult to define my small place in that larger picture, since I can't see the larger picture. I have also always believed that everything that happens to us is part of a learning process, that our Earthly existence is a kind of school to refine our soul. When I think about the concept of "thank you," it is more of an acceptance that the event (positive or negative) had to happen, and the rest is how I choose to respond to it, what I learn from it. Doesn't mean I like it or enjoy it at the time necessarily. And...that being said, I do not believe in the school of comparative suffering. The issues and complaints I might have with my life circumstances don't have any less value because someone else is suffering "more" or differently.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Doc, a nice response. I agree with you n the whole.

      Delete
  7. I am trying to get more mindful and grateful as I get older, maybe that's a thing? But it is an art and takes me practice!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find as I get older and see more of life affecting other people, I can't help but be thankful and grateful for what we have (or what we don't have.)

      Delete
  8. Rachel darling I too have thought about this issue - but no longer from the perspective of believing in a "higher power" but rather in peoples relationship to what they see as one.

    I suppose as you intimate,(or even if you don't) if you believe god had a hand in saving you, curing you, sparing you, you should also say:
    Thank you God for Cancer
    Thank you God for Hunger
    Thank you god for rape
    Thank you God for war
    Thank you god for slavery
    Thank you god for disability and mental illness
    For the true believers which of these is God not responsible for?

    For the disbelievers - for some of the things there are humans to be punished and others for the "blind hand of chance"
    Such horrible things are tragedies - but they don't shake the whole foundation of my beliefs - as they should for someone who believes in an omniscient Omnipotent being who cares.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes I've heard thad before, that people who don't believe in the omnipotence of God are more stable in their religious practices because of this.

      Delete
    2. Which mystifies me as to why continue with religious practice, in particular what is it that people believe will result from prayer - truly it baffles me - with no desire to insult anyone.

      As an aside - I once heard a doctor who had been successful in saving a patients' life after a guelling 8 hour surgical procedure express what he felt like after he informed the family that their loved one would recover - only to hear them extoll over and over how thankful to god they were and how they must say tehilim and give charity in thanks to god.
      Not a word about his contribution

      Delete