Rick Conrad

On Saying “Thank You” and Meaning It

When I’m ungrateful and unloving and angry at my wife and impatient with my kids and bitter about some inconvenient providence, that I’ve lost sight of who God is and who I am? If I truly grasped who he is, and what’s he’s done for me, and what he’s promised to do for me, would I be wallowing in self-pity, or would I feel a bit more, say, gratitude? Maybe the first thing to do is to remind myself to say “Thank you.”

Why do we teach our kids to say “Thank you”?
Is it simply that saying “Thank you” is part of the politeness that’s expected in our culture, and we want our kids to function well with other people when they grow up? Is the point just to recite the expected formula at the expected time? I don’t think so.
I believe we teach our kids to say “Thank you” because we want them to learn to be thankful. By requiring them to say that they’re thankful, we’re impressing upon them the ideal of actually feeling gratitude for the things that we receive. Gratitude like this is not natural to us as fallen creatures ; it has to be learned, and it’s something we want to impart to our children.
That is to say, we not only want our children to do the right thing, but we want them to feel the right thing. When I give my daughter a cookie she ought to feel thankful – she just got a cookie! If she doesn’t feel thankful, that’s something we’ll have to work on together, not only so that she can be a better person, but so that she can be a happier person.
It seems to me that for the most part we function on the assumption that we can be required to do the right thing, but not to feel the right thing. We understand that we’re responsible for our actions, and that it’s incumbent on us to make them conform to God’s standard of right and wrong. Emotions, on the other hand, don’t seem like something we choose as much as something that happens to us. How could I even respond to a command to feel a certain way?
And yet the Bible doesn’t share this assumption that feelings can’t be commanded. “Rejoice always” (1 Thess 5:16) doesn’t mean “act joyful.” It means “be joyful 1.” “Weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15) doesn’t mean “act sorry,” but that we should actually feel sorrow.
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And God Blessed Them

All Satan’s craft and all sin’s deceit fail to undo the goodness of the blessing that God spoke in the beginning. The signs of the blessing are all around us, whether in fields of wheat ripe for harvest, in school playgrounds packed with screaming kids, in seeing-eye dogs serving with loyal zeal – all these and more remind us that God’s favor is still at work among the people he created and loved from the beginning.

Like so many others, January finds me in the book of Genesis once again. The creation account can seem so familiar, and yet every visit to these two chapters feels like entering a massive temple charged with mystery and grandeur. The words that struck me particularly this time were those spoken by God over the newly created pair of human beings:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”Genesis 1:28
What a weighty and marvelous thing it is to receive such favor from the eternal God. On the day that he made them, God looked at our first parents, and he blessed them. God loved them and delighted to shower his goodness upon them. This is God’s original disposition towards our family, and despite all that happened afterward, the blessing was never rescinded.
After the fall, when God comes to judge his creatures, we encounter the word curse for the first time. “Cursed are you above all livestock,” he says to the serpent, condemning it to crawl on its belly and to eat dust all the days of its life. Then he turns to the woman. She is sorely punished, stricken with pain and dysfunction in her most intimate relationships. She is not, however, cursed. The man too is bowed down with a heavy sentence, but he is not cursed either; the earth is.
The first person to be cursed is Cain (Gen 4:11), and after him many individuals and groups of people fall under God’s curse. But not once does he ever curse the entire human race the way that he blessed us in the beginning.
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What Did Jesus Think About the Bible?

For Jesus the words of Exodus were not simply a record of what God said to his people in the past, but a word that God was continuing to speak to people who were living 1,500 years later. And although the Sadducees evidently either didn’t understand or didn’t believe the words that they read, God had spoken to them nonetheless, and Jesus holds them accountable for the message that they had received from their Creator.

When we open our Bibles, who is speaking to us through the words that we read? Is it God himself, or do we just have the thoughts of people like us who lived a long time ago? Could it be, as Muslims say, a word that originally came from God but was corrupted by copyists over the centuries? Or should we be even more sophisticated and say that the Bible isn’t God’s word but that it contains God’s word, or that it can become God’s word when he chooses to speak through it?
Well before we go and ask the theologians, let’s pose the question: what did Jesus think about the Bible?
An Objection

But when I say “the Bible,” I mean Scripture, and you don’t have to spend much time in the gospels to see that Scripture is a big deal to Jesus. What I want to know is, according to Jesus, what is the nature of Scripture? Whether you have five books as Joshua did, thirty-nine books as Jesus did,1 or sixty-six books like we do today, who is (ultimately) the author of the books that you have? Are these merely the thoughts of men, or are we holding the word of God?
Jesus’ Use of the Bible

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The God of the Gaps or the God Who Makes the Grass Grow?

We think that as modern people we don’t believe anymore in a God who makes the snow to fall or the grass to grow. But in fact our very sophisticated modern perspective on nature depends on that very thing. God’s decree is why there are natural laws that we can discover through science. What’s more, the fact that natural laws proceed from the mind of God explains why these laws are comprehensible to our minds. This Christian understanding of a universe ruled by the decree of a rational mind lies at the origin of science, and this understanding of the universe still stands behind all our science today whether we recognize it or not. 

In the Bible, God is presented as being directly responsable for all kinds of natural phenomena. Consider the praise the psalmist gives him in Psalm 147 for the way he takes care of his creation:

He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry. […] He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow. -Psalm 147:8-9, 15-18

God himself claims similar things in Job 38-39, and Jesus also affirms that his Father is the one who feeds the birds and clothes the grass (Mt 5:26, 30). The biblical God is one who is constantly involved in maintaining and taking care of the world he has created.
But in the 21st century, we don’t believe that God does that anymore.
Armed with modern science, we are inclined to think that we know that rain and snow are a function of humidity and temperature and pressure in the atmosphere, that grass grows because of nutrients in the soil and the light of the sun, and that birds don’t need feeding because they feed themselves. Once upon a time we put the label “God” on all these mysteries because we didn’t know how things work. Now that we do know, we can safely dispense with primitive ideas about God making rain or causing the sun to rise. That is to say, God is a God of the gaps, the explanation we appeal to when we don’t have a natural one. And as science continuously closes the gaps, the place for God gets ever smaller.
Of course none of that is true.
God is not the God of the gaps. And science, rather than explaining away God, has opened a marvelous window for us to see in ever greater detail what it is that God does every day to govern and take care of his creation. Consider the example of gravity. All of us are familiar with gravity as being responsable for keeping planets in their orbits and bringing apples down on the heads of pondering physicists.
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