The four lines of what is commonly known as the Doxology have been sung for more than three hundred years:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
It has been said that the Doxology, which literally means words or saying of glory, has done more to teach the doctrine of the Trinity than all the theological books ever written. To this day, when I sing those powerful lines, I recall the colorful lesson of my first grade Sunday school teacher. With something like cookie dough and bologna magically falling down on the table before us, she read us the story of a God who made the heavens rain bread and quail so that God’s grumbling people might live and know that God is God. I was impressed. And when we sung the Doxology at the end of the service, I thought it immensely helpful that I knew a little more of what it means when we sing that God is a God from whom all blessings flow.
Former president of Calvin Seminary, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. once said pointedly, “It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular.” He was commenting on the odd phenomenon of finding, especially around the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., people thankful “in general.” To be thankful “in general” is very strange, he concluded. “It’s a little like being married in general.”
Of course, his words do not mean to dismiss the gift of being thankful overall or living with a broad and general posture of thanks. Rather, Plantinga’s concern is a philosophical one. Namely, can one be thankful in general, thankful for the blessings that flow, without acknowledging from where or from whom they might be flowing?
In what remains a revealing look at human nature despite religion or creed, Moses describes life after Egypt. Rescued Israel was a grumbling people sick of manna, wailing for meat, even longing to go back to the land God had mightily delivered them from. And in the midst of revealing God’s promise for meat, more physical evidence that God had heard them, Moses says to them, “You have rejected the Lord, who is among you.”(1)
To give thanks is defined in the dictionary as “expressing gratitude, appreciation, or acknowledgment”; to be thankful is to hold “the feeling or expression of gratitude or appreciation.” Here, Moses points out the inconsistency of the Israelites who are grumbling as if all alone. If being thankful is by nature being aware and appreciative and expressive of gratitude toward someone or something beyond us, complaining is refusing to see anything butourselves. It is refusing to see anyone among us, let alone the God we have seen in ages past. Moreover, it is an expression that serves only to affirm our own expectations, whether they are based on faulty visions of reality or not. Certainly the Israelites didn’t really want to go back into captivity, but in their grumbling even slavery began to look inviting.
For the Christian, thanksgiving is a reaffirmation of the word itself, a declaration that we know we are not alone, that we know there is someone to thank; and consequently, that choosing not to see the glory of God, choosing not to raise our eyes to God from whom all blessings flow is in essence to be content in blindness. To live without thanks is to choose not to wholly consider reality, choosing to overlook a good creation and creator at work beyond us, in all things, in all circumstances. In one of his own doxologies written for the Roman church, the apostle Paul declares the glory of God in the midst of his own hardships, and so lifts our eyes to the hope that our thanksgiving indeed has a source.
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him,
to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory for ever. Amen.(2)
The Christian holds onto a most helpful answer for the curious times when one finds himself thankful in general and the times when one is tempted to have in mind the right to complain.Praise God from Whom all blessings flow. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Numbers 11:20.
(2) Romans 11:33-36.