April 26, 2018

Randy Thompson: A Sense of Sin and the Joy of Gratitude (Huh?)

A Thanksgiving Meditation for 2017
A Sense of Sin and the Joy of Gratitude (Huh?!)
by Randy Thompson

Thanks-giving is a by-product of a certain way of looking at life,  a way of looking that has eyes to see the goodness of God and  the goodness of God’s creation, coupled with the awareness that we are undeserving of such goodness.

This awareness of being “undeserving” is another way of saying that we are aware of who we are in relation to God, that we are a crooked, hand-drawn line in relation to God, our straight-edge ruler. The Bible tells us that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the God who loves us (Romans 3:23).  In other words, it tells us we’re sinners. We don’t like that idea, but if we’re at all honest with ourselves or attentive to the bloodbath of human history or aware of the weekly horrors we read about or see on TV, we must admit it’s true. There’s a spiritual malignancy slowly devouring the human heart, for which there is no cure other than from God.

God’s cure, of course, is the Son whom He sent to us, whose unjust death became the miracle cure of our fatal illness. Through Christ, we see clearly the goodness of God, the goodness of the Creation God proclaimed as good, and the goodness of God’s gifts.

“OK,” you say. “But what does all this have to do with thanks-giving? How on earth does a sense of sin lead to the joy of gratitude?”

Being aware of who we are as sinners, albeit forgiven sinners through Christ, is an education in humility, whereby we know who God is and who we are in relation to God. Specifically, we come to understand that we are outsiders to God’s goodness, but that God has adopted us and made us participants in His goodness. From the perspective of humility, God’s goodness is a grandly big goodness indeed.

A sense of sin is the fertile soil in which humility grows, and, in turn, humility is the fertile soil in which joyful thanks-giving grows and in which worship grows.

Why is humility so important to thanks-giving? Because humility sees all goodness offered to it as a gift and blessing, something undeserved and unexpected.

The opposite of humility is a sense of entitlement, that, somehow, we deserve what we think should be “ours.” It’s the arrogance that demands its “rights” from the universe.  It’s the self-centered perspective that sees God’s gifts without seeing the Giver of these gifts, so that they become disconnected, lifeless idols that we think we can pick and choose at our convenience.

Both a sense of entitlement and idolatry destroy our capacity to receive God’s gifts and even to recognize them as gifts. Instead of being drawn ever nearer to God and into God’s goodness through worshipful gratitude and praise, we end up alone, on the outside looking in,  unable to experience life as God intended it to be lived.  Humility is the recognition of being on the outside, and rejoicing that God through His Son has invited us in.

Gifts make glad both the giver of the gift and the gift’s  recipient. It is a joy for the giver to give. It is a joy for the recipient to receive. For the recipient, it is a particular kind of joy, a grateful joy that recognizes God in His gifts and rejoices in them as well as in the Giver.

And so it is that the most unpopular of Christian doctrines is put into the service of joy and gratitude through the Gospel. The smaller we see ourselves to be, the larger God’s gifts appear. The more we own our own sinfulness, the more clearly we see the goodness and generosity of God.

For a sinner, the gift of forgiveness, acceptance, and love is an indescribable gift. So are all subsequent blessings and gifts.  Paul the Apostle got it right:

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

(2 Corinthians 9:15)

Comments

  1. I have a standard line in situations like my wife putting a nice meal on the table or giving me a little gift for my birthday. “Not worthy, not worthy. Fightin’ through it, fightin’ through it.” It’s a ‘joke’ but I think it sums up this post. Recognizing the true nature of the situation and our woefully negative contribution yet not wallowing in despair or self pity but rather rising to humbly accept the gift and consequently enjoining ourselves in communion with the giver.

  2. Ronald Avra says:

    Good thoughts to meditate on. Thanks, Randy. Blessings to everyone.

  3. In other words, it tells us we’re sinners. We don’t like that idea, but if we’re at all honest with ourselves or attentive to the bloodbath of human history or aware of the weekly horrors we read about or see on TV, we must admit it’s true.
    Not to derail the thread, but no. That does not logically follow. I don’t mind listening to what you have to say, but please don’t make assertions and expect us to just swallow it without engaging our critical thinking skills.

    • While I agree we’re sinners, I don’t agree that the part afterwards follows either. What you read about in history books, and what you see on TV, is not representative of mankind in general, and should therefore not be used as an illustration or model. For every ruthless dictator throughout history, and for every murderer you hear about in the news, there are many countless more kind, humble people who simply go about their daily lives the best they can while helping others that don’t receive the widespread recognition referenced above.

      • If it isn’t representative of mankind in general, why does it keep happening? And why is it perpetrated by decent, normal folk?

        Yes, we can be kind. That does NOT negate that we are also cruel.

        • Okay, you’re right, television is an accurate reflection of real life, and the majority of people in my family and neighborhood have committed a federal crime in the past week and are being held without bail in prison.

          I’m not saying we’re not all sinful. But don’t use what you see on the television as a supporting argument, since that is not normal life for 99+% of people.

          • Television… history… news… psychology… politics…

            And the list goes on.

            • Everyday life. Oh, the sin usually isn’t grand in everyday life, but it is the banal sort that forms the soil from which grand horrors grow and nurture themselves.

        • In logic, that would be called “affirming the consequent”, Eeyore. The human experience is not what we want it to be, but that does not in any case mean that we are sinners, or that sin is even a thing. The only way to come to that conclusion would be to build the conclusion into the terms of the argument.

          • If there is any such thing as objective morals, then we aren’t upholding them. Call it what you want, but the biblical term is “sin”. And the current and historical (and the biblical!) record proves it’s endemic to humanity.

            • Every day, at work and among the families I’ve been member of and known, I see what the Bible calls sin. Not just in the immense horrors recorded in the annals of history, but in unrecorded, passed-over-by-history petty vindictiveness, self-centeredness, the willingness to uphold and support comfortable and customary lies in the face of uncomfortable truths, the unwillingness to take risks in support of what we know to be right, truly destructive gossip and scapegoating, and so much more. I see the same things in myself.

              This is not to dismiss or devalue the good that exists in human beings as individuals and societies.
              But even the good, for instance the desire to work together with others and cooperate in ventures bigger than ourselves, can and has been turned to evil purposes, repeatedly and devastatingly in both large and small ways. The grand historic evils are only made possible and enabled by the prevalence of banal evil in the everyday lives of ordinary men and women, evils that are often taken for virtue.

              • Of course, maybe it’s not so. Maybe my experience is skewed, or my expectations unrealistic. Maybe sin is not pervasive in human beings and affairs. In that case, the human race, and the world, has no need of a savior. Oh, some may have need of one, perhaps many, but not the entire race or world. This in turn means that Jesus Christ is not savior of the human race and redeemer of the world, since neither has need of him; he only helps out a few, or many, that need it. That’s possible, but it’s not what I believe, and it’s not the essence of the traditional Christian affirmation and proclamation, that calls Jesus Lord.

                • Overall I still believe you are correct, sin is pervasive in human beings and affairs. I never denied that we all still need a Savior. But don’t compare bombing a village of innocent civilians to being upset that there’s too much salt in your food. They are categorically different in their impact on God’s creation. History/TV don’t cover the overwhelming banal sins of everyday life, they only cover the great historic ones as you call them perpetrated by a select minority. Can the banal sins of everyday life lead to great historic evils you mention? Sure, possibly…but that is extremely rare, thus it serves as a poor model. A may cause B, but that doesn’t mean A always causes B.

                  • As members of states, every human being has been involved in the violence that all states exercise. As Americans, we were involved in the bombing of Raqqa and Mosul that occurred over these last months, resulting in innumerable casualties, among them many civilians noncombatants. Are the pilots who dropped the bombs more guilty than we are? I don’t have a table with the metrics that could measure one against the other.

                    In my experience and observation, the banal evils have always been the substrata and support of the great ones; so I disagree with you there. For instance, without the small cruelties that are taken for granted in everyday social life, of which we perpetrators are sometimes not even cognizant, the horrific, many of the grand cruelties of human history would likely not have occurred. Not all sins are equal, true. But according to the gospels, Jesus himself seemed to believe that the imagination, quite apart from any enactment in the world outside, is capable of evil serious enough to stand in direct qualitative relationship to evils actually performed. Can I prove any of this scientifically? Of course not. This isn’t science; good and evil, sin and holiness, redemption, are not scientific terms.

                    It will have to be okay for us to disagree.

                  • I acknowledge this, though: The grand sins are not proof of the pervasive nature of evil in humanity. Even if the grand sins did not occur, or if they could somehow be prevented, we would be in need of redemption. Evidence of that is found in everyday life, experience and behavior. We shouldn’t use the grand horrors as our proof of the pervasiveness of human evil.

  4. Daniel Jepsen says:

    Randy, what a wonderful post. Well-reasoned, well-communicated, and imparting spiritual wisdom. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It was helpful to me today.

  5. Thanks for the reminder Randy.

    It seems every generation has to know afresh what was said to Cain ‘sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’

    Without that we have a flawed anthropology