Question 041. Part II
What is praise?
See whether this man, upon meditating on your works, has turned his gaze towards the works and away from the Worker. Observe whether or not he has descended from the Maker of all things to the things he has made. For what he has made has been made as a ladder to ascend to him, not descend from him. For if you love these things more than you love, him, you shall not possess him. What does it profit you to have an abundance of works if the Worker should leave you? Certainly, you should love those things, but love him more – and love them for his sake.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.
The primordial distance between God and man is not due to man’s rejection of the good things of God nor God’s withholding of His good things – as if some scarcity or inequity brought about a much-needed revolution. Rather, the rebellion was against God, not His good things, for the attempt was to procure them without Him. Man’s present condition is different, for while it is a situation of scarcity, it is not a situation of depravity: the good things of God are still given despite man’s wickedness, for God is good and keeps His promises making the rains to fall upon the good and the bad alike (cf. Matthew 5:45). The scarcity is brought about by man’s own activities; the preferring of lesser goods over greater good and the ongoing attempts to bring forth greater goods from lesser goods. Only God can bring forth water from a rock or change wheat and wine into His Body and Blood. Only in, through, because of, and ending in God can man have a claim to heaven.
The purpose of the good things that God gave man’s first parents, and continues to give to man in His mercy, is not so that man might have his fill of the good things of creation; to be satiated, to be happy, to have great wealth and prosperity, to have length of days. It is true that they are good things and God does indeed give them, but they are not given as ends in themselves. They ultimately do not give joy even as they are reasons for joy. Man’s end is not some Paradise of Earthly Delights, Elysian Fields, nor a return to the Garden. Man’s end is God, being possessed by Him and possessing Him in Mystical Marriage. The good things that God truly wishes to give to man is Himself, and in that giving man will eternally praise Him.
The created good things of God are given to draw man closer to God; to elicit man’s trust, obedience, love, and praise. They are a ladder by which man ascends to Him, to know Him and His commands, and what He offers to those who would turn to Him in prayer. Herein is a simple thing; the good things that God wishes to give really are good not because God declares them to be such but they are good because they allow man to achieve his purpose and end precisely because God, being good, truly does will the good ends of the things that He created. They are not tricks. He did not say seek me in vain. (cf. Isaiah 45:19) Yet man too often treats His promises and His will to do so as such.
As God woos man, and it is truly wooing, God not only faces man’s distrust but man’s inclination to stop short of the glory of God and prefer lesser things to actually receive the goodness of God. Like a loving father, He does not wish to overindulge His beloved child and feed that child’s proclivities for created goods, even those goods that are given for the sake of the child’s life itself. The path to God, the turning in prayer, the receiving, the praising of God, is not from abundance to abundance strictly speaking. It is not a progress towards utopian plentitude but towards plentitude of God.
This is why the good things that man receives in prayer are not the good things that man decares to be good nor the good things of his present needs and wants, but rather those good things that bring about the receiving of the greatest good – the reception of God. Sometimes the withholding of a created good by God, deprivation, and even the temptations and evils that He permits to come into man’s life are the “good things” of God because they lead a soul to closer union with Him because of who He is, not what He creates and gives.