A few years ago, a Baptist from Texas confided he’d once been short on his rent. So he prayed for money someone owed him. A check arrived the next day. This proved that God—or more accurately, Jesus—responds to people’s prayers. After all, Matthew 21:22 states, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
I think checks arrive for other reasons. And I look at praying for things—and thanking God for them—differently. So this Thanksgiving weekend, let’s consider this in light of the Book of Job, about which I write in God’s Others.
HaSatan—the Adversary rather than the Devil of Christian and Muslim theology—makes a bet with God about Job, an Uzzite (not a Hebrew). Job is “wealthier than anyone in the East” and also “tam v’yashar,” blameless and upright. God calls him “my servant.”
Fuhgedaboudit, says HaSatan to God. Should Job lose what he has, You’ll see what he really thinks of You. The wager is on. God permits HaSatan to do anything but kill Job. So HaSatan takes away Job’s wealth, ten children and health (but not Mrs. Job).
Job is angry. He’s innocent! He wonders, as does the prophet Jeremiah, why good people often suffer while the wicked prosper. This dilemma helped produce the concept of heaven—good people suffering in this life but receiving their reward in the next. However, Job focuses on obtaining justice in this world. He challenges God to defend Himself knowing he can never bring God into court. Yet Job never turns away from God.
Ultimately, Job acknowledges that God’s ways are beyond human understanding. I agree, since God can’t be defined. (See my last post, “God Was in This Place,” 11-12-10.) Thus Job’s experience questions the orthodox assumption that checks arrive in the mail to reward the prayers of the faithful and the corollary that people who experience terrible losses are faithless and defiant of God.
So now you know why I never thanked God for letting me hit the home run that gave my class the fourth-grade punchball championship of P.S. 174. I’ve never believed I was rewarded with good hand-eye coordination and reasonable strength—or punished by not being another Mickey Mantle, my childhood baseball favorite.
That’s why I think of my favorite secular holiday not as Thanksgiving but “Thankfulgiving.” I’m thankful—appreciative—for what skills and intelligence I have and the people who’ve helped me along the way. (For an interesting discussion of skill enhanced by luck, read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.)
The Mishnah advises that while prayer cannot fix a broken bridge, it can mend a broken heart. Prayer as worship—thankfulness and appreciation rather than petition—enables us to connect with what is outside ourselves and with our inner strength, as well.
But I must give thanks to my youngest son, Aaron, for a great Thanksgiving dinner.