Friday, February 19, 2016

I'm thankful

Today being the fiftieth day of the year, it is high time for a bit of meditation upon these lines from the fiftieth psalm:

Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
  to those who go the right way
  I will show the salvation of God (Ps 50.23).

Ps 50 is a substantial rejection of false theology of sacrifice. In contradistinction to Vedic Hindu traditions, according to which the sacrifices to the gods strengthen them to maintain the integrity and substantial existence of the universe, God in the Hebrew tradition has no need of sacrifices from anyone:

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
  for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
  or drink the blood of goats? (vv. 12-13)

It would be absurd and heretical to suppose that our sacrifices in some way affect God or strengthen him or provide him with a little bit of "juice" when he's feeling tired. On the contrary, even if per impossibile God had need of sustenance and food, he would have no need to ask it from us. Everything that exists everywhere has come into being from God, and everything belongs to him. Why should he ask us -- frail and imperfect and unreliable and petty -- to feed him and meet some needs of his?

As a matter of fact, what God requires is not the animal per se but that we thank him:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
  and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
  I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (vv. 14-15).

God calls us to give sacrifices of thanksgiving. Why is that? Because sacrifice is not for God, it must follow that it is for our own sake. And clearly enough, God desires us to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and gratitude so that we might come to terms with the fact that we depend upon God utterly for everything we have. The point is orienting us towards God in faith: in a deep trust that loves God and recognizes that everything we have is a gift.

Sacrifices consequently serve to express and foster faith. Because we recognize that God gives us everything, because we realize that we have nothing from ourselves but rather have received everything from him, therefore we realize that God loves us and cares for us. And because he cares for us, we will know to call out to him in the day of trouble, so that he will rescue us. In this way, we see that sacrifices serve also to keep us from depending too much on ourselves. If we try to fight our way out of our problems, we are likely to fall into evil, if not to fall altogether. But when we call on God, he delivers us, because we know that we depend on him, and we are thankful for everything he gives.

In this way, then, the one who brings sacrifices of thanksgiving will see the salvation of God. In bringing these sacrifices, we learn to have faith in God and trust him and love him. So we ought to start today to say, like one of the great Seahawks players did, "I'm thankful."

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