by Shawn Lazar, excerpted from an article in the September/October edition of Grace in Focus
We All Are Grateful When People Do Us Favors
Of course, it is common enough to appreciate the small favors people do for us. Social life is filled with little kindnesses that differentiate friendship from mere civility. But such courtesies are rarely selfless. Many gifts are ultimately meant to be repaid. We give expecting to receive in return. And as Jacques Derrida has said, these are not gifts so much as debts, leading to an endless circle of giving and receiving tinged by the resentment of being obliged to give in return.
But when a gift is so extravagant that it defies repayment, and when it is made, not to put us in debt, but for our own good, then our appreciation ripens to gratitude. And in that moment of gratefulness, we experience a sense of transcendence that lifts us beyond the narrowly selfish concerns of our life, helping us take a wider view of its purpose, and we give thanks. For gratitude responds to goodness, and goodness speaks of spiritual realities unaccounted for by material existence. Gratitude gives us a taste of divine things.
How Much More Powerful Should Our Gratitude Be For the Free Gift of Everlasting Life?
And if that is true of gratitude in general, how much greater is Christian gratitude, which is the consummation of all such feeling? It weaves together all of our fleeting moments of thanksgiving and transfigures them, pointing to their true source in Christ. Christian gratitude has this effect because it is born out of the greatest sacrifice ever known, and the costliest gift ever given or received. It is born out of Christ’s own atoning death, and His promise to freely give us everything, including our everlasting heritage, simply by believing Him for it. And so, Christ’s gift speaks to the true purpose of our existence, which is not to wallow in the shameless hedonism of popular culture, but to live eternally with, in, and for God. Hence, the free gift of eternal life reshapes our earthly perspective in light of eternity. By this gift, believers know that our true purpose lies not in the here and now, but in the soon to come. Christ’s gift frees us from the cultural bondage of narratives that lament life’s futility, and despair of the pointless indifference of, to quote Tennyson, a nature gone “red in tooth and claw.” Gratitude refashions the believer’s mind because it proclaims the true purpose for which we were created. We were not meant for the violent strivings of social Darwinism, still less for the banal happiness of “pitiable comfort” (to use Nietzsche’s phrase) that so often exhausts our culture’s highest aspirations. Rather, we were meant to rejoice in wonder for all eternity at the boundless love of God in Christ. And so, armed with the assurance of Christ’s promise that having believed in Him we shall never perish (John 10:28), how can the believer not be animated by thanksgiving to God, grateful for all that He has done?