Friday, November 24, 2023

Two Modes of Thankfulness


("The One Who Showed Mercy")

Not every mode of thankfulness is to be applauded.

One misguided form of thankfulness is seeing a beggar on the street, and thinking, "Thank God I am not like this beggar; that, while she does not have a roof over her head and food to eat, I do. And for this, I give thanks." 

This is hierarchical gratitude. One sees people who have less than I. This is accompanied by a feeling of gratitude for having more than they. 

"More than they" means things like: more giftedness, more opportunity, more stuff, more money, more beauty, more experience, more square footage. The "prayer" that rises to God out of one's place on the status-honor hierarchy sounds like: "Today, God, as we approach Thanksgiving Day, we know there are people who do not have food enough to eat. We see them on TV. We read about them on the internet. But we do have enough to eat. For this bounty, we give You thanks."

That is Pharisaical thankfulness. It's a gratitude that grows in the soil of confidence in one's own righteousness and status.

Luke 18:9-14 says, "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'  "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."" 

Pharisaical thankfulness is comparative, based on the idea that one's physical condition and circumstances indicate the approval or disapproval of God. The man born blind must have sinned, or at least his parents must have sinned. Thus, he deserves his blindness.

"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about." His self-prayer ("I... I... I...") only makes sense on the honor-shame hierarchy. His occasion of thankfulness is someone else's infirmity. Pharasaical thankfulness looks like this: I see someone who has less than me, and I thank God that I am not them.

This is not true gratitude. Real thankfulness, having a thankful heart, comes out of one's relation to God and not to others. The core recognition is: I need God, and God's love came down and rescued me. This kind of praying says:

  • God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
  • You have had mercy on me!
  • Thank you God.
True thankfulness is a function of an awareness of one's own neediness, and not that of others. It contains the realization that God has displayed, and is displaying, his mercy towards me. When you realize how in need of rescue you are, and rescue comes, you will feel thankful

At this point prayers of thanks can become passionate. One outcome of a God-directed thankful heart is the heart-desire to be used of God to rescue others, rather than looking at them and feeling good about your own abundance. 

There's no honor-shame hierarchy in the kingdom of God. We're all beggars in need of bread. Give thanks in the right direction, and for the right reasons.