By In Theology, Worship

Gratitude: The Fight Against Idolatry

Ingratitude is no peccadillo. Along with the refusal to give glory to God, ingratitude is the fountainhead of idolatry that eventually inundates a person and a society in the most degrading sins. Before speaking about how people who think themselves to be wise become fools or how God gives people over to their sinful lusts, Paul tells us that they are first ungrateful (Rom 1.21). Ingratitude was evident in the first sin of Adam and Eve, and that story lies behind much of what Paul says in Romans 1. God gave the man and woman every tree of the field for food and even the Tree of Life at which they would meet with him. They had everything they needed and more. But God withheld one tree from them. Their ingratitude for all that God had given them stirred up discontent that focused their attention on that which God had withheld. The rest is history.

The basic posture of ingratitude is a pride that foolishly declares independence from God, despising him and his good gifts. You have decided that God doesn’t deserve gratitude. He is not really good in himself or good to you. You declare that you don’t need him while you breathe his air. He doesn’t deserve your respect or love. The rejection of God’s goodness is not without its severe consequences. To reject God’s goodness in ingratitude is to reject God’s design for you and the creation. It is the refusal to respond in agreement and submission to God’s own declaration that his design for creation is “good.” Consequently, you go your own way.

Ingratitude reveals the deep problem of sin in man of his hatred for the very life of God himself. God lives eternally as Father, Son, and Spirit, with each member of the Holy Trinity giving mutual respect and gratitude to one another. Jesus’ giving thanks to the Father on a number of occasions throughout his life revealed to us the eternal relationship of the Trinity. Each recognizes the gifts given by the others and responds to them with due honor and gratitude. Throughout eternity the Father gives to the Son and the Son responds by giving back to the Father his thanks. The Son gives to the Spirit, and the Spirit responds by giving back to the Son his thanks. On and on it goes. It is a community life characterized by gratitude.

Created in God’s image, man is called not only imitate this life with one another but to participate in the family of God himself. We are called to acknowledge the goodness of God to us and join in the eternal dance of gratitude. Our ingratitude is a revelation that we hate the life of God and want nothing to do with it.

We who have been brought into the family of God, united to Christ by the Spirit, are to be characterized as grateful people. It is one of our distinguishing marks as the people of God. Indeed, the meal that forms us into the body of Christ (1Cor 10.16-17) is a meal of thanksgiving. We are the thanksgiving family, bound together by our mutual gratitude for what God has done in Christ.

The discipline of gratitude is a perpetual guard against the idolatry that lingers in our hearts and is always looking for an opportunity to make another idol. Gratitude refocuses us on reality; the reality that our lives are dependent upon God at every moment. Gratitude cultivates contentment; we focus on what God has given us instead of that which he has withheld. Gratitude is a roadblock on the road of depravity.

It is not always easy to be grateful. We live in a world in which we are surrounded by the effects of sin. There are times that we hurt because of our sin or the sin of others. There are times that our mere mortality is evident in illness or death. We live with pain. Yet Paul tells us in Ephesians 5.10 that we are to be “giving thanks always for all things to the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is in no way denying the hard realities, telling us to “put on a smile even though it hurts.” He is telling us to keep everything in the context of the larger narrative. We are those who trust that God is good and has good purposes even through evil. Though evil is not good and must never be declared good, we can give thanks even in the midst of difficult times because God has a good purpose for us.

So, this is the conclusion of the matter: give thanks.

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