The Problem of Ingratitude

Paul, in his systematic explanation of the gospel to the church at Rome, wrote,

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21, ESV, emphasis added)

In the heart of man, there seems to be a correlative connection between gratitude and human evil that presents in rebellion. This conclusion seems to be what lies at the heart of man’s fall.

If we go back to the Garden, what Eve seemed to succumb to was ingratitude. God had essentially opened his earthly home to humanity, allowing them full access to everything, except one thing: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Humanity had nothing to offer God, but God offered them unfettered access to himself and his presence in the Garden. He brought them from abject poverty to the lap of luxury. One would think that such an act would inspire gratitude. Of course, we all know the story: Eve was deceived, Adam sinned with a high hand, and man was cast out of God’s immediate and unhindered presence. Man’s covenantal relationship with God ended in divorce.

However, like a reluctant husband who still cared for his ex-wife, God stayed close, constantly providing guidance and protection even though he was despised. The bride may have broken her vows, but he would not break his.

We see an immeasurable amount of gratitude in the story of Job, who in the face of terrible personal loss and financial ruin can only say,

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2:10b, ESV)

Job’s remark seems confusing to us because we have this confused notion about love and relationships that clouds our vision. Job saw himself as an employee of God who served at God’s leisure and pleasure. Everything that Job had was a gift from the hand of God and that he was merely an overseer of those gifts. Of course, we think of “gifts” as something that has been given for us to keep and to use however we wanted. This was simply not the case in the world of the ancient near east. There, “gifts” were considered investments by the person giving the gift, and that investment could be called upon to deliver a profit to the one who gave it at any time. Rarely were gifts given freely, gifts that had no strings attached expecting anything in return. Even Job’s life was a gift from the very hand of God, and that life was to be invested in honoring the giver, less it should be called to account and be found squandered. Job had gratitude, that’s why he could say what he said.

The problem, then, would be the ingratitude. This comes when we begin to believe the lie that we are somehow entitled to something. The good gift of our sexuality is directed by God to be invested in raising up a family, but often it gets abused in premarital, extramarital, and homosexual sex. It gets degraded in pornography. It gets mocked in comedy. That good gift that is meant to draw two people together winds up driving them apart. It can be tracked, as Paul demonstrates in his opening argument in Romans, to ingratitude. I would almost argue that every act of human rebellion finds its seed in rejecting what God offers because of a false belief that God owes us something.

On this side of the Garden, we have to get beyond this idea that God is somehow obligated to us, and begin to live in light of the fact that we are obligated to him. It’s time to show some gratitude.


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