Thankfulness Theory

by Conrad Martin

It is a great relief to be divinely commanded to do something you want to do but haven’t because deep down you feel like you didn’t have a good enough excuse.

Which is why there are those delightfully naive scriptures which say, in simple imperative: “In everything give thanks.” “Always give thanks for all things.”

If thankfulness is joy, wouldn’t we want to do it without being told? And if it is joy, how could it simply be there for the choosing?

Perhaps I haven’t done it because I feel somehow that it would be cheap or false to be happy for no good reason, and it seems disingenuous to make up reasons. If not unreasonable, at least arbitrary. I notice that I feel like it’s a betrayal of some future perfection to be too happy in the present imperfection. I owe it to Excellence to judge as relatively lacking anything else which is not sublime; I should give it its due degree of appreciation but no more. Temperance and honesty and objectivity and all that. Let’s not be lawless and throw ourselves away on mediocrities.

I don’t think I’m all wrong about that. It would be idolatry to give to anything else the kind of honor due only to God—to the Holy One—alone good—dwelling in the light unapproachable. There is a kind of perpetual dissatisfaction which is true. We must not draw back from feeling the terrible inadequacy of anything tangible, anything actual, anything possible, anything anyone could ever conceive of experiencing.

What is thought? You stretch out the hands of your mind and you hold the thing—(the room you are in, the table, the exact color of the floor, the soft rubbing sounds of your fingers, the body you somehow call yourself. The tree outside the window, the straight lines of the lamp post, the air, the way the air fills dimensional space, and the space beyond the earth which nothing fills. The beautiful thing you wish for and can never attain, the person in the picture on your fridge, the fridge, the food inside the fridge, the taste, the tang, the feel of your tongue on the arch of the roof of your mouth, swallowing, the thought of yourself tasting, the thought of yourself, your own death, your strangeness, the dreams you lost, fears that will soon find you, your chronic doubts, your anything and everything)—you stretch out the hands of your mind and you hold the thing, and that is what thought is.

There is no thought like the thought of God. It is not itself a thought. It would be truer to say that it is God’s thought which thinks in you—that all your thoughts live in His thought–that to be aware is to be enacting a form of praying. The thought of God is a verb, a direction, a turning of the mind, an opening of awareness to an outside which can never be within. The thought of God is the only way to understand. To begin to think of God is to see that you have always already been thinking of Him. This thought need not push out other thoughts. It is the true way of thinking; it is what the word “truth” tries so valiantly to mean.

To thank God is to stretch out the hands of your mind, as the thought of God, and then to hold the thing–the anything, the little thing, the everything.

It is something like holding two thoughts simultaneously—to think of God and of the thing at the same time.

If the thing is painful, then giving thanks is holding its painfulness in unity with the thought of God. That is all. You need not find anything in particular about it for which to be thankful—only consider it, and consider God. Thankfulness is looking at the thing directly, allowing the truth to hold it in its own light.

This would cure the bitterness from our pain, and it would purge the distraction from our joy. It would be the end of the great sin of boredom; in this act of joyful attention we will bring each thing into its own, and therein find our own highest purpose, and the secret of our rightful work. It is the end of our fear; in its abundance, creation speaks through us into an invincible moment fuller than time.

Thankfulness is. It is infinity filling smallness. It is prophecy. It is a flash of new creation. It is very good.


Artwork: On the Saco, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

4 thoughts on “Thankfulness Theory”

  1. This concept of God reminds me far more of the “god within” and life/energy philosophies of the eastern religions and New Age
    thought than the Judeo-Christian God revealed in scripture.

  2. Lu, I am interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this. In what ways do you find the article differing or departing from the way God reveals himself in scripture?

    1. Natasha, if we look at an excerpt such as this
      _There is no thought like the thought of God. It is not itself a thought. It would be truer to say that it is God’s thought which thinks in you—that all your thoughts live in His thought–that to be aware is to be enacting a form of praying. The thought of God is a verb, a direction, a turning of the mind, an opening of awareness to an outside which can never be within. The thought of God is the only way to understand. To begin to think of God is to see that you have always already been thinking of Him. This thought need not push out other thoughts. It is the true way of thinking; it is what the word “truth” tries so valiantly to mean._

      And look past the language to ask “what is really being said?”–what is being expressed is amorphous at best, but a basic summary leaves us with:
      The thought of God, isn’t actually at thought. It is a thought. It is God thinking in us–whatever that means–, (which apparently) leads to awareness, (which is an equivalent to praying), and awareness leads to the realization that we have always been aware (hence always been praying). Then the writer argues that the thought of God “need not push out any other thought” (which seems to contradict scripture about renewal of the mind and taking thoughts captive), and concludes that “this”–the previous sentences—, is truth.

      While there are, perhaps, no overt claims made, the author seems to hint that, rather than being a Person, separate from, and supreme over us, God is a part of us. I do not see any of the claims in the quoted paragraph supported anywhere in Scripture, but they do have a flavor reminiscent of monism, pantheism, and mysticism.
      From scripture we know God is a Person, he is omniscient, and His thoughts are above and separate from ours. We know we are beings, sustained by him, yes, but existing independently from Him (He gives us life; we are not a part of Him). All we like sheep have gone astray, each one has turned to His own way…we are fallen, separated by sin, and come to Him only through salvation (How can it be true that we “have always been thinking of—and therefore praying to—Him?)While much of God may be a mystery, it is not because He is an amorphous, nebulous being, to be defined, and re-defined according to our fancy. Anything unclear, or unknown, about Him is due to His choice and to our inability, as finite, fallen, created beings to fully see, know, and understand a limitless, omniscient, omnipresent Lord and King.

  3. I appreciate your response, Lu, and I hope I can properly explain my thoughts on the article as well. I am limited in responding to your claim that the idea presented in this article is that of monism, pantheism, and mysticism because other than bumping into these ideas in books that dealt only briefly with the subject and a quick google definition reminder just now to make sure I was at least certain of the general definition I know too little about them.
    To begin, I noted that the paragraph you quoted from “Thankfulness Theory” is juxtaposed to the previous paragraph about other thoughts. Initially the author talks about how the thought of God is different and more real than other thoughts. I take this to mean that as God is omniscient he must know our thoughts and as such our thinking about anything at all must have God in it. To through God think of him becomes ironic because the action of thinking presupposes God in it. People generally are not aware of this, in fact usually in trying to push away any thought of the spiritual realm or a divine being a person is actively avoiding thinking of God at all. In coming toward God we must become aware of his omniscience. On Mars Hill Paul informed his audience that God made the world and gave everyone everything they have and placed them in their histories and times saying, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:27,28 NIV) Perhaps it is useful to think of our thoughts as not entirely our own. It is not that God is a part of us but that we are a part of him and necessarily think within the laws and ways that he set forth. To come to God includes the prayfulness that comes by being conscious of his immediate presence for we also believe that God is everywhere. When I initially read the post it reminded me of a section of verses in 1 Corinthians that mystify and intrigue me:
    “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
    Verse 14 does suggest that there are “those without the Spirit” but in John 6:44, 45 Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” According to Jesus, our very turning to God must be influenced by his Spirit. If God speaks to us through his Spirit which he has given us is this not the “thought of God”?
    In response to your objection to the phrase “the thought of God need not push out any other thought” I read this in the sense of a renewing of the mind. By allowing the thought of God to be the hands of our mind with which we can hold other thoughts this must necessarily “renew” and reshape how we think about the other things. The conclusion appears to be then that by understanding God’s thoughts or Spirit within us and by becoming aware of it we can then look at and through even painful circumstances and be thankful. This is the power of God in and through us.
    And again, I am grateful to you for being willing to voice your concern and engage in discussion on this.

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