October 24, 2017

Randy Thompson: Alone with Good Luck?

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Alone with Good Luck? (A Thanksgiving Meditation)
by Randy Thompson

It’s a simple point, really, but one that needs to be made often, and that is, there’s a huge difference between giving thanks and having a good lucky feeling about life.

Having a good lucky feeling about our achievements and about our possessions, which define our achievements, is to be aware that life has gone well, that we are comfortable, and that life is pleasant.  It is to be aware, in a vague sort of way, of all the good things in life. Since the question of why these things were there in the first place hasn’t been raised, they are chalked up to “good luck.”  There are other ways of describing this attitude, of course. There’s “Life’s a bowl of cherries.” Or, “I’m blessed.”  Or, “I’m fortunate.” This attitude can be deeply felt, but it is an attitude where we are left alone in our own, private universes.

The problem is, feeling lucky is not the same thing as giving thanks.  Feeling lucky or fortunate doesn’t relate us to anyone outside ourselves.  Giving thanks joins us to others; it recognizes we live our lives in a web of relationships, that we live giving thanks and receiving thanks.  At the center of this vast web of relationship is the One who created us, God. We are not alone in our own personal universe of well-being.  Gratitude connects us with others, and especially so with God.

This feeling of being lucky is the attitude of a character in one of Jesus’ parables, one whom Jesus called a fool. In fact, the parable is commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Rich Fool” (You’ll find it in Luke 12:13-23).  In it, a rich farmer has had a very good year–a very good year indeed. His harvest has been successful beyond his wildest dreams. So, he decides that what he needs is bigger barns to store his harvest–or, to give it a contemporary spin–to store all his “stuff.”  He feels very lucky indeed; maybe even, somehow, “blessed.”  He says, pointedly, to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”

Raising-a-glass-with-friends-and-family-to-welcome-2010This rich farmer is enjoying his good fortune to the hilt. He is lucky indeed. “Blessed” even! Yet, if you know the story, it all goes south quickly. He is not alone in his universe of good luck. Unfortunately for him, he lives in God’s universe, and he’s oblivious to God, and to the many wonderful gifts that God gives, gifts such as good harvests.  The story ends with God getting the last word, and it turns out this rich farmer wasn’t as lucky as he thought he was: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

The point of the parable, of course, is that God intends for harvests–possessions–to be shared.  Ultimately, you will lose all your earthly blessings when you die; why not share them with others before them? Instead of hoarding them in your own private universe, live in God’s universe instead, and expand your heart by transforming your earthly blessings into gifts and blessings for others? Why not invest your heart in loving God by thanking him, and loving your neighbors by sharing with them?

However, for our purposes, the point of the parable isn’t the point that Jesus made here. Rather, we’re looking not at God’s judgment, but at the Rich Fool’s attitude that provoked God’s judgment.

The rich man here sees his goods, his success, and his wealth in relation to himself and not in relation to God. We don’t know whether he was literally fat or not – the Lord doesn’t provide that detail – but poetically, we can think of him as “fat and happy.”  All is well in his little universe of good luck, at least temporarily. But, “luck” is as stable as a Hollywood marriage; it doesn’t last. And if you don’t see your life in relation to God, that’s all you’re left with

Late November, of course, is when we celebrate Thanksgiving. (Corporate sponsors:  Butterball, Ocean Spray, and the NFL). Sadly, for many, it will not be a time of giving thanks, but a time of merely feeling lucky or fortunate—and luck doesn’t owe thanks to anyone; it just “happens,” or so it is thought.

The word we use to describe our autumnal foray into gluttony is “Thanksgiving.” But, it is a nonsense word unless there is Someone to thank. We thank people when they give us gifts at Christmas or on our birthday. (At least, we’re supposed to.) We thank people for their help and encouragement. We thank people who have taught us needed skills or given us helpful wisdom. (Again, at least we’re supposed to!)   We’re supposed to thank our Creator, too, for the universe we live in was created by Him, and us along with it. And, if we’re at all honest, His creation is quite a piece of work, despite what we’ve done with it. For that matter, each of our lives is quite a piece of work too, as the Psalmist suggests. We, each of us, are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Each one of us gifted by God with skills, aptitudes, and interests.

It is no great mystery and no new spiritual wisdom to note that the One to whom we owe thanks most of all is God.  It is God who gave us the skills and abilities to create wealth. It is God who put other people in our lives at just the right time so that we could begin a new, better chapter in life.  It is God who turned our painful dead ends into super highways of promise. And, of course, supremely, it is God who came to earth and gave us an eternal feast of bread and wine that bears the body and blood of His Son, where thanks-giving is fulfilled in communion that is eternal in nature.

Comments

  1. Under a curse?! says:

    For 6 yrs every time I am grateful, whatever I’m grateful for is ripped away. Anything – electricity, running water, snow, trees, computer, friends, health – gone as soon as I say the words or think the thought. Expressing gratitude is a guarantee of immediate disaster, not just loss. I dont want to live in fear without thankfulness but I don’t dare give thanks as the results are always too dire. Help. Please. Where is G-d in this?!

    • He’s in it all.

      The good…and the bad.

      I’m with you. I have a hard time being thankful for everything. I’m thankful for the comfort and ease and fearful of losing that.

      But I really am thankful that He knows how I am, and loves me anyhow.

    • George Christiansen says:

      Nobody can answer this in any way that can truly satisfy you here. There is very little other than cliches and such that anyone can give you with out truly knowing you and you situation. It’s not any reflection on the people here. The medium just tends to suck for that sort of thing.

      A bit of solidarity is about all I can offer.

      I have had some pretty big disappointments and experienced a lot of disillusionment and hopelessness over the last couple of years that have me asking similar questions. Only God can really answer those questions or provide something that makes the answers less important. He has not thus far. Maybe He won’t. Maybe He can’t. Maybe He’s not.

      The only thing I can do is be honest as possible with myself and those who matter to me and do life the best that I can in the circumstances that I find myself in. There are certainly plenty of lessons being “taught” through these things.

      Maybe I’m learning them.

      Maybe not.

      It sucks either way.

      Sorry for your pain.

      “The angels really loved him,
      The devils loved him too.
      On a slow night he was lots of fun.
      he wasn’t Job, but he would do.”

      • Good thoughts here, George. Thanks for them. One of the things I try to remind people is, whether God is or isn’t, life sucks. So don’t blame the bad on God. Life sucks sometimes.

        • That’s a good comfort to remember.

        • George Christiansen says:

          I don’t rule out that God may in fact be to blame for the suck.

          He may in fact be a jerk. We may be getting exactly what we deserve as a whole or as individuals. We may have ridiculous expectations. Our perspective may skewed and things are better than we perceive them to be. There are lots of possibilities and I think I am rather open to them. I certainly have my preferences as well to what the correct belief would be.

          Any God worth His salt is not going to be intimidated by this fact and I would hope to be of little use or interest to any other sort of God.

          • I guess I’d use a little of what you say as an argument against you. If we’re getting exactly what we deserve, then He’s not a jerk, He’s just. Sure, He may LOOK like a jerk (which may be what you’re saying), but in reality it’s Him being true to two of his characteristics, justice and holiness.

            There’s a good book out, rather enlightening, really, called “America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God–and What That Says about Us” which examines the four basic ways people view God: authoritarian, benevolent, critical, and distant. Curiously, as the subtitle suggests, the way we view God says a lot about ourselves, the way we grew up, the way our beliefs were formed, etc.

          • OldProphet says:

            The initial guy that commented obviously is in pain, doubt, and questioning his God and looking for answers. He’s looking for answers from his Lord and you guys are having a discussion about what a jerk God is? Nobody will trust a God who is a “jerk”. How is this helping? Is this really going to be another thread about foolishness?

          • George Christiansen says:

            I meant the periods like “or”s in that comment. I suppose there may be a way where all of those things can be true at once, but that was not what I was getting at.

            I would agree that our beliefs about God, or pretty much anything else, says a lot about ourselves, but obviously that includes the belief that what we believe says a lot about ourselves.

            Examining why we believe what we do and questioning if those reasons are a justification for such belief is a noble thing. Unfortunately both wrong answers and right answers can be quite comforting. It takes a lot of character or a lot of suffering (and sometimes a lot of both) to keep someone in limbo until worthwhile answers prove themselves such.

          • Sorry if we haven’t conformed to what you view as healthy and beneficial, OP, but…

            I think open, honest discussion is always good. If a person in pain says, “Where’s G-d in all this?” then it might be beneficial and healthy to explore whether God might be a jerk. Or whether He exists.

            And like it or not, at least it avoids the trite typical Christian clichéd responses, like “You must be doing something wrong” or “God has a plan” or “It must be God’s will” or “He knows what’s better for you than you do.” Etc.

            And anyway, I will maintain…whether God is or isn’t, life sucks.

          • George Christiansen says:

            Nobody said God is a jerk and my aim is not to get him to trust God per se. It is not my job to be God’s PR agent. It is my job to try and love people with whatever means I have to do so.

            “Where is God in this?” carries within it the implication that he may in fact be right there and just be a jerk. It is a question that must be faced and answered.

            I am not having performing mental calisthenics here. These are questions that my own experiences and circumstances have raised also.

      • “Out here in this darkness I know what I’ve done,
        I know all at once who I am…” Steely Dan

        There are benefits, unsought and unwelcome though they may be, in (suckiness) darkness.

    • Where is G-d in this?

      Look to Jesus. Perfect man, totally innocent, accused, arrested, hung on a cross. Totally undeserving of his fate.

      God put His own son into the midst of the stuff you’re going through, that’s all I know for sure.

      Peace to you.

    • Christiane says:

      a story from the Jewish Talmudic tradition:

      “Once while traveling in a strange country Rabbi Akiba took with him a donkey, a rooster and a lamp.
      “When night approached, he sought shelter in a village, but it was refused.

      “Everything is for the best,” said he,
      so he went into the forest and prepared to spend the night as best he could. However, the strong
      wind extinguished the lamp when he endeavored to light it.

      Even though he had to make his preparations for the night in darkness he cheerfully
      said, “Everything is for the best.”
      “When he awoke, he found that both his rooster and his donkey had been eaten by wild
      beasts during the night.

      “Everything is for the best,” said he, without complaining.

      The next day he found that an enemy army had passed through the forest, attacked the village and captured it.

      Had he obtained lodging in the village, he would have been captured, or had the donkey brayed or the rooster crowed or had his lamp burned so the soldiers could have seen it, he would have been taken captive and possibly put to death.

      Thereupon he felt very thankful that he had been denied shelter in the city, that he had been without his light and that he had lost his donkey and rooster because it strengthened his conviction that one should not complain, regardless of what happens, because
      “Everything is for the best.” “

  2. There have been times in my life that I felt the same way, long stretches where nothing seemed to go right and the universe was not only cold and empty, but malevolent as well. I am truly sorry that you are going through this again and I cannot fathom why it is to be, but all I can say is that ,for ME, I took comfort in Job’s attitude of “Though He slay me, YET will I praise Him…”. I could do no other.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      A good, ;future Thanksgiving meditation: Job on giving-thanks.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Oscar, I’ve been thinking about your comment on the universe seeming, at times, “cold and empty” and even “malevolent. The universe can indeed seems cold and empty sometimes, but I’m struck by the fact that even a cold and empty universe is still an amazing and astounding piece of work, and I, for one, even when depressed, am glad I’m part of it. As to its seeming malevolent, that’s more a description of one’s emotion than of reality. One could describe the intentions of a tiger or polar bear as “malevolent” if we happened to be overly close to them, but the tiger or the bear isn’t being wicked or malevolent if it desires and even tries to eat you. You just happen to be dinner, that’s all! (and, for that matter, a cause for thanksgiving). No matter how rottenly miserable life might appear to be or actually be, the universe is no less amazing, no less beautiful, and no less awe-inspiring. I learned this in the middle of a major depression some years ago. (True Confession: It was a mild form of it, but still a major depression.) I was greatly encouraged when I realized that reality–the universe, if you will–was not depressed, even though I was. I found it helpful to see my unhealthy self living in a universe untouched by my illness.

      • I won’t speak for Oscar, but when you’re in darkness, whether the darkness is reality or not doesn’t really matter. It’s dark. A person who truly is in the midst of what Oscar is talking about may or may not be able to talk themselves out of it and convince themselves it’s not reality, and may not be able to get themselves to a healthier place.

        That said, I think it’s great that you were able to work through that, Randy!

        • Randy Thompson says:

          Rick, you’re right. We can’t always think our way out of a dark hole. However, that said, I do think it makes a difference when we choose to believe that we’re in the black hole and the rest of reality is not. That doesn’t change the fact that we’re in a black hole. Nor is it a quick fix for changing dark emotions. That was my experience. But, it was an exercise of faith that was worth doing. I didn’t feel any better at the time, but I was able to think about what I was feeling in a slightly better way. Over the long haul, as a spiritual discipline, that change of perspective can make a difference–but only over the long haul.

          • Thanks for the additional thoughts and clarifications, Randy. Good stuff there.

          • George Christiansen says:

            The person who cannot entertain the possibility that THEY are seeing things wrong is the one to really worry about.

            The insane ones are the ones certain that they are not.

          • Under a curse?!– It’s truly a horrible thing to feel as if God has it in for you. I’ve had that experience myself, in fact the struggle against it is part of my daily reality. An indifferent or hostile universe is nothing compared to the idea of a baleful God. I, too, have tremendous trouble being grateful to God, because of the persistent sense that God is just setting me up with something nice so that he can whack me down yet another time.

            There’s no use pretending, because what is pretended gratitude, anyway? Just a lie. But being ungrateful carries in its wake a lot of guilt, and fear that lack of gratitude will draw even greater misfortune from an already pissed off God. It’s a terrible bind.

            I don’t know how to speak into your particular situation in a way that could help you. All I can say is that the very fact that there are things and people you like and appreciate, and even love, is enough. I don’t think you need to force yourself into some kind of pretense of a gratitude that isn’t real to you; just like the things you like, appreciate the things you appreciate.

            Don’t worry about thanking God; he’s a big boy, he’ll take care of himself. Look at what’s right in front of you, and when it’s good, simply know that it’s good. True gifts are free, no strings attached; thanks are not required, nor are they a condition of our continuing to enjoy those gifts.

  3. I believe that thankfulness comes in degrees, and the notion of being “lucky” is one of them. No, it is not the most elevated attitude, but it is a place to start. But once recognized that attitude can grow into Thankfulness to the One who is responsible for that “luck”.

    On another matter, though, the story of the rich fool is too often used as an invective against the rich when, in reality, it is meant as an instruction for a generous spirit and lifestyle more than anything, IMO. You can be penniless and still be generous with your spirit, generous in your treatment and attitude toward others, generous with your time, and generous with your faith because life is perilously short and success fickle.

    We ALL have SOMETHING to be Thankful for. It’s just that we have to change our attitude in order to see it.

  4. Two thoughts:
    1. Frederick Buechner somewhere described luck as another word for grace, at least as described by someone who doesn’t know God. At least it’s an acknowledgement on some level that something came to me that I didn’t earn. Maybe the lowest rung on the ladder to knowing God, but you have to start somewhere. (oh wait, I see oscar already mentioned that.)

    2. Are we grateful for the gifts more than we’re grateful for the one who gives them?

    And one more thought:
    There are two kinds of people: those who feel entitled to good things, and those who feel grateful for them. Maybe there’s a third kind too, but they don’t fit in my system.

    • There are two kinds of people: those who feel entitled to good things, and those who feel grateful for them. Maybe there’s a third kind too, but they don’t fit in my system.

      Never fear, DebD, the “systems analysts” on this site will solve that for you 😉

    • I always find that second one to be a bit unhelpful. It’s often whipped out to guilt trip the suffering, as if to say “if you were really in love with Jesus you wouldn’t be so bothered by this loss.” Our hearts are terminally fickle, and we will never love God as we ought. Pointing that out can be helpful, but there is most certainly a wrong time to do that.

      It is better to process these sorts of things through the analogy of God as our father. My infant son love the things I provide for him: comfort, affection, food, shelter, etc… If these were withdrawn, would he still love me? Probably. If these things came only from mommy, he’d probably love her even more and daddy less. Does he love me more than these things? In some way, I’m sure he senses the intrinsic value of persons, but at the more immediate level, he is confronted with the blatancy of his perceived needs. My failure to meet those rightly causes him to question me and a continued failure to provide will damage his trust in me.

      It is completely natural for those suffering to find their confidence in the goodness of God shaken, we should not be surprised by this nor rebuke it harshly. Not everybody has the strength to keep a stiff upper lip and say with stoic fortitude, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be His name.”

      God’s kindness leads us to repentance, but there are times it seems as if God were being unkind. It is his good gifts to us which show him to be kind. So when somebody is going through the painful loss of some of God’s good gifts, I think we should, rather than pointing to Jesus as the giver who has suddenly become stingy, we must remember that Jesus himself IS the greatest gift ever given us, greater than the total of every other gift. He is not demanding our unfaltering gratitude in suffering, but rather, he continues to give us Himself no matter what the world throws at us.

      I think your two kinds are rather polar extremes, and most of us fall somewhere in between on the spectrum, often drifting one way or the other on any given day.

      • Amen, Miguel. Loved this…

        “…as if to say ‘if you were really in love with Jesus you wouldn’t be so bothered by this loss.’ Our hearts are terminally fickle, and we will never love God as we ought. Pointing that out can be helpful, but there is most certainly a wrong time to do that.”

        Fickleness is everywhere in scripture. From the Israelites in the desert to Jesus’ followers, when things are going good, everything is great and God is Good. When things go bad, off the bandwagon we go. Human nature. We all do it. Even those close to Christ do it.

        The key, then, is to recognize our fickleness and try to work past it and through it, to get ourselves again to a place where we can declare, “Though He slay me, YET will I praise Him.” (a verse pointed out by Oscar earlier). Easier said than done, for sure, but…we can get there.

      • George Christiansen says:

        “My infant son love the things I provide for him: comfort, affection, food, shelter, etc… If these were withdrawn, would he still love me?”

        I don’t know about whether it would apply to infants ( i think that beyond some animal instinct he probably sees you as a benevolent dispenser of sorts), but an older child and certainly an adult son SHOULD love you even if you withheld those things, but you would be unworthy of that love by doing so, if you could do otherwise.

        This is the dilemma for those questioning God’s love: why does He withhold the things we believe a loving person will give us?

        If it is because He cannot give them then He’s not worth a whole lot as far as God’s go. Leaving that aside, I think He is looking for trust that he has very good reasons for withholding them, but I see absolutely no reason we should not feel a loss for the lacking.

        • -> “This is the dilemma for those questioning God’s love: why does He withhold the things we believe a loving person will give us?”

          That’s when you pull out the trite Christian cliché: “He knows what’s better for you than you do.”

          😉

          • George Christiansen says:

            I don’t think it is the content that makes that cliche so much as the method of expressing it to someone.

            I should have also added “why does He not give that which He seems to have promised to give?” as another facet of that.

            I actually find “He knows what’s better for you than you do.” quite reasonable, but the second question is quite often answered in a way that is rather dishonest and sounding an awful lot like some politician’s PR people.

            “The president really didn’t mean “them” he meant “people like them” sort of stuff.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Another Christian writer, Charles Williams, said “All luck is good.”

      This is Williams affirmation of the essential goodness of God’s creation and the hope in Christ that, God works for good in all things.

  5. I think true thanksgiving is to hold something both gratefully AND loosely, with the “something” being as broad as a state of being or as specific as a particular item. If you can deeply appreciate having something, you can also lose it gracefully because you know it isn’t truly yours. You hold it now only in trust, and there is no written contract for when it will be withdrawn. Loss still hurts, it is still a struggle, but not one that inspires hatred.

  6. Thank you Randy. Going on UBC’s FB page. Great meditation.

  7. OldProphet says:

    Spam, better than vegemite baby

  8. Back to the first commenter, I hesitate to say anything because it is easy to come up with trite answers at a distance from very real pain and bewilderment. At the same time there are things I wish someone had pointed out to me along the way. My first response now to repeated misfortune or dysfunction is to assume there is a lesson to be learned, and that the problem will be repeated in all the infinite varieties available to Universe until I wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe this is not always what’s going on, but the first thing to look at.

    And if nothing is obvious, a concentrated prayer barrage every time the situation presents itself to my awareness asking for answers, for guidance, for direction. A primary assumption on my part is that God is good, not a monster, not a sadist, not someone who gets off on making me miserable. I don’t see how progress is possible without that assumption. Another assumption is that probably my ego needs to get out of the way. Egos can really get off on playing the martyr, the victim, If this isn’t working, I would consider adding fasting to my prayer, but to be honest I don’t very often get that desperate.

    It makes a lot of difference who you hang out with and what you watch and read and listen to. Today I stopped listening to oldies music out of the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s when I realized I have been fighting off depression lately and that this music is from a time when I was often severely depressed. Wouldn’t affect someone else the same. In my opinion, this place is probably the best available online for getting good information and advice if you are following Jesus with an open mind, or just looking for answers.

    I truly hope you find some kind of help in amongst all these comments. Not everyone is coming from the same place but it is rare for anyone here not to be in service to others to the best of their ability and present knowledge. May the Lord Jesus show you the Way and help you to walk in it.

  9. After Satan and the Antichirst come spam and scrapple.

  10. Is it just me or does anyone realize that the phrase “good, lucky feeling” is in a Jack Handy bit? “When a kid gets an answer right, tell him it was a lucky guess. That way he develops a good, lucky feeling.”

  11. Head cheese, spam, scrapple: if I could be grateful for these, botulism, stroke and early death would be a cinch.

  12. Now THIS was a satisfying thread!