Everyone says it, all the time. I remember seeing and hearing Gorbatchev say it once, before the fall of Communism and the Wall in 1989. You don’t have to be a believer to welcome good news using a meaningless liturgical phrase, “Deo gratias”, translated into every language on earth. Even for many believers it has become a knee-jerk reaction, rather than an expression of faith. Many people in France and other European countries this morning are using the empty phrase, after the election of Emmanuel Macron as President. It’s a way of saying “Ouf !”.
But the expression deserves a moment of reflection. It implies that when what was at stake was crucial, or a successful outcome unlikely, we attribute it to God. Whether or not anyone prayed for this success, God gets the credit. Which means that everything that happens, good and bad, is believed to happen because God gives it the nod or refuses to do so. The torpedo misses its target : the submarine crew curses, but the people on the enemy ship thank God. You get that job, the operation on your child is a success – or you don’t and it isn’t : we say “Thank God !” or keep mum, depending on whether the news is good or bad, thereby attributing whatever happens to the will of God. “Deo volente”, “God willing”, “Inch Allah” the pious say. He is in charge and there’s not much we can do about it.
Of course, we can pray – asking Him to make sure that what happens is in our favor. “Almighty God”, “God the Omnipotent” can do anything He likes, including change the course of events and work miracles. Such credulity and dependence is worthy of children, not adults. Next time you’re inclined to say “Thank God”, don’t. He doesn’t give a damn one way of the other. We should.