Psalm 98 is about thanksgiving. The psalmist becomes wilder and wilder in his vision about how we should all thank God for his love and care. First, it is everyone required to sing, then an orchestra and a huge choir, then the fish in the sea are exhorted to applaud, finally the big ocean waves and mountains are to join in. Remember that this psalm was written in a very different age, when many natural phenomena were ascribed to gods of different sorts, and by the Jews to the one true God.
I am reminded of the instruction, allegedly from Chinese wisdom, “If you are going to bow, bow low!” The implication is that, once you acknowledge a debt, whether of service, influence, or mistake, you need to put your whole effort into repaying, making things right, making recompense, paying homage.
The lesson here is about gratitude for the many, largely uncounted, benefits of our everyday living. Gratitude that will make us into happier, more aware, people; better people, kinder people, more understanding people. Such gratitude goes a long way to grease the wheels of society. Finding actions performed by others to say “Thank you” for is a terrific discipline, and giving the thanks fills both parties with a warm rosy glow of contentment. Thanks should not be mumbled, given resentfully or grudgingly; although 100-piece orchestras are seldom needed. Thanks should be given generously, a gift that costs nothing and that enriches giver and receiver.
We have come to understand that many of the wonderful benefits of modern life are not directly the work of God but of cooks, teachers, waiters, engineers, librarians, drivers of buses, taxis and trains, nurses, people who say: “No, after you,” research scientists, artists, gardeners, and a host of other people whom it now becomes our work to identify. It is now our creative responsibility to find ways to thank them fully, generously, and kindly.
But the lesson can be applied further. When we have found a cause that we consider a worthy one, let us not support it with half a heart. Let us give it all we have. This may be the caring for a child or a disabled person, it may be a career that promises great benefit to the world, it may be a charity that supports a cause near to our hearts.
This fullness of response may just occupy enough of our time and effort that we stop devoting so much of our intellect to criticising the actions of other people. It may be that, following the law of love like this might distract us from disapproving of people who behave differently. We may stop seeking isolated verses and stories from the Bible that seek to condemn and instead begin to rejoice in the freedom to approve, to thank, to work for positive results. Too often our news channels portray Muslims as terrorist, Christians as anti-gay and anti-abortion, and almost every religion as anti-women. We can change all that by trying to be as positive and enthusiastic for good as the author of Psalm 98