Thursday, March 1, 2012

Gratitude, Part One: The Problem

from here

A couple of Saturdays ago, my mum cried, “Thank you, Lord!” as we noted that the predicted storm had held off for her birthday party. It made me uncomfortable in the same way I felt after my husband came home after his exams last year and thanked God for giving him the perfect questions: “What about the people who studied really, really hard but don’t have your uncanny knack for guessing what the examiners will ask?!” I protested. And what about the people who were desperate for rain that Saturday? For a while now I’ve felt guilty each time I've thanked God for things that may have benefited me while disappointing someone else, somewhere, as if He’s involved in one but not the other. My mum’s comment finally forced me to confront these icky feelings and work out a better response. 

I know that part of the right response is to continue to thank God for good things, and to encourage and allow others to do likewise without freaking out; I wholeheartedly believe James when he says that “[e]very good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (1:17). I should thank God for beautiful weather and perfect exam questions and the health of my child and the food and clothes and shelter I enjoy every day, knowing it all comes from Him.

I also wholeheartedly believe Paul when he says in Romans that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (8:28), although I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t noticed. I respond to the irritations and pains in my life with dramatic “YOU’RE SO MEAN TO ME, GOD!”s rather than submissive, “Your will be done”s. It doesn’t come naturally to thank God for the day-to-day things that don’t seem to go my way (a dwindling bank balance, my hair dryer dying the day after I decide to chop myself a fringe); it’s well-nigh impossible to respond with gratitude to the things that continue to haunt and hurt me after many years (the effects of my parents’ divorce and remarriages, the disproportionate size of my nose).

But if I really do believe that God is transforming and redeeming all of these sad and annoying things in my life for my good and for His glory, then I have to thank Him for them, too. To do any less is equal to declaring to God that I don’t actually trust Him. While reading a section from Cornelius Plantinga’s Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin for my college subject the other day, I came across this paragraph (on page 22): “A thoroughly ungrateful person... may be ungrateful without having in any way chosen to be so... Her ingratitude is scarcely under her control in at least these respects and hence can be said to be involuntary. But it is also clearly sinful. If the ingrate were to detect her flaw and see its unloveliness, she would rightly feel obliged to confess and repent of it.” As is usually the case, I was applying my readings to everyone but myself until I was stung by this passage.

I have to learn to be thankful in all things because to not trust and thank God in the rough times is an unlovely sin to be confessed and repented of. I’d like to think I’m not “thoroughly” ungrateful, but the Holy Spirit’s sharp poke to my heart let me know clearly that I’m ungrateful enough. Also, if I honestly believe Romans 8:28, then to not live by that truth makes me unlovely, ungrateful and a hypocrite. If my faith is to have any integrity at all, I must give thanks for everything God is doing in my life, in the lows as well as the highs, the hurts as well as the joys. How else can I prove to others in this world that I truly believe God is bigger than the yukky stuff, that Jesus has conquered sin and death and pain and fear?



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