My baby boy wriggles. Like many of us, he is impatient for food. He frets and fumes at the slow approach of his desire. But when it comes and he has taken a bite, a little dance follows. He shimmies in a thoughtless gesture of joy.
He does not know the history of his food, how we come to have it. He only knows that it’s from his mother’s hand and he loves it.
He is happily ignorant of all that goes into food, of the secret vocation of the farmer, the store clerk, the packagers, managers, and marketers all along the way. He does not know the hidden hand of God, working through vocation, to bring him daily bread. His prayers are random, giggling shouts of words he hears the rest of us offer up in thanks.
As we grow up, our mystery somehow decreases. Confronted with unnumbered wonders, we sigh and chew in gladless presumption. Our knowledge increases, but our wonder evaporates.
All of life is a kind of weary presumption. We have unspeakable kindnesses heaped upon us and we pout about the earth, grumbling under our breath.
It seems to me that maturity (of the best kind: growing up in Christ) is mostly demonstrated by instinctual gratitude and unprovoked gladness. And unprovoked isn’t quite right the right word. It will only seem such. For as we grow, won’t our hearts be awakened to the wonders everywhere to be seen, so that everyday we live and breathe and have God’s unmerited favor we are overwhelmed with thankfulness? We will always be provoked.
Paul writes (in Romans 1:18) of the unrighteous that they “suppress the truth.” The truth, like a helium-filled balloon, keeps popping up and must be shoved down again and again. These, to whom the wrath of God is being revealed, are intentional in their suppression…
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 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 1:19-21 ESV –emphasis mine)
They knew God, but didn’t honor him as God or give thanks to him. It seems the underlying issue for every wicked act of rebellion we can do is failing to honor and give thanks to God. We do this in the face of plain evidence. We do this in spite of the clarity of truth. We have to go out of our way to suppress the truth.
Thankfulness is more than simply another virtue, it is a key to almost all virtues. If we are thankful, what idols will tempt us?
True enough, some of us are right now (and all of us have, or will be) suffering a hard providence. I don’t intend to make light of that, or act as though life isn’t hard. The world is broken, but there’s thanks to be given in the suffering. There’s good to be seen from the hand of God, as Job saw. It may make it harder if we see that the Bible doesn’t paint a picture of a feckless, far-off God during our suffering. We do not see a God who wrings his hands and sighs, “Oh, I wish there was something I could do.”
I know this: He has good intentions for his own. He means good for us even in our deepest pain, even as the hammer falls. The Lord gives and takes away and is forever to be praised.
That’s part of honoring God as God.
The accommodating God of our bent imagination, the one who tolerates the sin we love, but hates the ones that personally annoy us–or are unpopular now with trendsetters, or media–is an idol. The God who is there is not silent.
He is mysterious, but he is not tricky. He’s unfathomable but not capricious. When his son asks for bread, he will not give a stone.
I want a thankful heart. I want a humble heart. I need a miracle.
I want the wriggle of joy. I want the increased mystery that comes, paradoxically perhaps, with increased knowledge of and love for the God who is there.
Jesus is amazing. He was tempted in the wilderness with thirst (he had no drink). Unlike the children of Israel, he did not grumble. He was tempted with hunger but did not bypass the authority of God the Father. He did not give way to presumption and ingratitude. He submitted. The Son of God submitted to his Father, waiting to be glorified by the Father instead of taking control of the kingdoms of the world ahead of schedule.
Jesus is the first of the new kind of human that all who are in him become. Not those who grumble, but those who are deeply, joyfully, thankful.
Thankfulness–intentional thankfulness–is the ancient avenue to wonder. Let’s toward that joy.