The Virtue of Gratitude

by Scott D. Hendricks

There is a subtle theme within the Scriptures and the writings of the church fathers that can easily escape the notice of Christians in the 21st century – that gratitude is a natural and necessary moral obligation. We sometimes fail to notice it because it is a disposition of the heart, and because our modern american culture has lost the sense of any and all social obligation to anyone or anything. In other words, we are blind to its value. Anyone can recognize that saying “thank you” is absolutely essential to “maintaining social graces” with those who give us gifts. There is no surer way to hurt a relationship than to fail to say “thank you.” But do we realize how essential it is to the spiritual life?

Thanksgiving is not merely a nice afterthought we could do without in our relationship to God – it is quintessential to what it means to be a Christian and a human. It benefits primarily ourselves, for without thanksgiving we easily fall prey to forgetfulness of God’s benefits bestowed on us – putting them aside in pursuit of earthly cares. In fact, this was the beginning of the sin of our ancestors – forgetfulness of God and dissatisfaction with his gifts. Hence thanksgiving – Eucharist – is the reversal of sin and the resurrection from the fall of Adam, whose children we are. What Adam failed to do was brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ – a life of perpetual thanksgiving. And so it is in the breaking of the bread and giving thanks after Jesus’ example that the Church is made one again with Christ and God through the Holy Spirit’s work.

But it is not enough to merely attend the Eucharist and partake of Christ’s body and blood; we must also live a life full of thanksgiving, rendering God his due at all times, as best we can. For it can be all too easy to go to Church on Sunday and forget God the rest of the week. So we see that remembrance of God and gratitude for his gifts is absolutely essential to the Christian life.

But there is more. Within theology, especially in the West, a great discussion tends to take place on the relationship between Divine grace and human will, work, or effort. Some say God gives us grace first, then we respond; others say the two actions happen synergistically and simultaneously; others yet say humans make the first move, to which God responds. But all these theories about Grace and human will miss out on very significant point: Whenever we are given a gift, it is incumbent upon us to then render some token of thanks for that gift, so as to keep peace with the benefactor. Even so when God gives us gifts – which he is continually in the business of doing – we must render him as much thanks within our grasp in order to maintain peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if we fail to give thanks, God will not stop giving; but we will stop remembering and be blind and ignorant to God’s goodness.

And so our words of thanks, our actions, our repentance, our remembrance of God, every good work, and, in essence, our Eucharist – none of these are a matter of merit, nor does any of them pose the question of which came first. Instead, everything is a response to God, a thank offering for all he has done for us. When we obey God we will become like him, but not to merit righteousness or earn a reward; rather we will merely have done our duty and we will only have begun to thank our Creator and Benefactor, who is praised and glorified forever. Amen.