The Gift of God isn’t just Eternal Life
This feels like it ought to go in a chapter of a book entitled “The Grateful Heart.”
The authentic Christian is ever mindful of how much they have received rather than how they need to do. This is one of the many ways that exemplifies living in a state of grace in contrast to ‘works righteousness’.
My, how many are the gifts which God has lavished upon us to participate in Eternity with. Sight, sound, touch, and taste. A body that heals itself, a mind that learns incessantly, legs that can take us places, and hands that serve our will. Coordinated movement (and dance), language, intelligence, and emotions. Pleasure, happiness, sympathy, and hope. Imagination, insight, the ability to discuss with others, and to read. Creativity. Compassion, humor, gratitude, and humility. And there’s more…
An aesthetic sense, moral perception (Mt 7:11), to think abstractly, to record history, and to give altruistically. The ability to discuss with ourselves (reflection), to project ourselves into hypothetical situations (transcendence), or another’s feelings (empathy), and a Love that alters our sense of reality and can indeed change the world. An immortal soul, a revealed Word (the Bible and Jesus), a sense of awe, to be able to commune with God (via prayer and Bible reading and worship). Salvation (aka, the Gift of Eternal Life), the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Gifts (and Fruit)(I Cor 12) of that same Spirit, and a new family (the Body of Christ)(the Church). Wow! Wow, Wow!! Who wouldn’t be grateful?
And as if God weren’t generous enough, these “gifts” don’t need to wait for Heaven for us to enjoy God and His creation. “Eternal Life” starts now. And so does our enjoyment of God’s gifts. The only difference is that in Heaven we will receive a resurrection body (another gift) that is unencumbered by a sin nature, whereupon all our other gifts will find greater scope and satisfaction. It’s almost too much to take in, indeed, fearful to contemplate.
Yet sadly, tragically, “Eternal Death” is most have chosen to abide. Still God, in mercy and grace, has not chosen to withhold these gifts (except for the last ones, which people have chosen to withhold from themselves). And while the unsaved ones will say that they are enjoying life just fine, thank you; the saved ones can only wonder how this can be without an appreciation of the gifts and the Giver. Sooner or later, you instinctively want to thank someone for good health, a clear mind, and a love of life.
Remember the last time you hurt your hand and couldn’t use it for a while. You reflected upon how good it is to have 2 hands; how more convenient; how much more enjoyable. You felt sorrow and compassion for those without a hand (or two). Your empathy extended further to all handicapped people. You promised yourself never to take good health for granted again. And then you got well. And all your good intentions drifted to the sidelines… until the next time you got sick. Aren’t we odd? So much like ancient Israel who forgot God in the good times and prayed and begged God when they were oppressed. Hmmm…
The purpose of this “chapter” is not to exposit the gifts. One could write a book about just them alone. Nor is it to highlight the ones that are the fingerprints of the ‘Image of God’ we are said to be created in. (Which ones are they? They are the ones we don’t share with the animals, silly.) Rather, I would like to spend some time focusing on ‘living as a Christian’. And remembering the gifts and the Giver is just the beginning.
There are many aspects to the Christian life. Submission and humility; joy and contentment; justice combined with mercy; love expressing itself in sacrifice and forgiveness; devotional life and church life; dedicated giving (the tithe) and joyful giving (above the tithe); sharing the gospel and living the gospel. Again, books could be written (and have been written) on these and more.
But ‘gratitude’ and having a thankful heart should take its place among the above as well. The praise of the Redeemed in Heaven has something in it that the angels can never render, namely, gratitude for His mercy in saving us. One wonders why God went to all the trouble of creating a “good” universe only to allow it to become fallen thru Adam’s disobedience. Part of the solution lies in having a creature (us) who can experience His mercy and can be thankful for it. Angels are pretty cool, but we, not of our own design, but because God allowed a fallen world, are cooler. The praises of the saints are sweeter because of the bitterness of tasted sin, now repented of, now saved from. And because in heaven our memory will no longer suffer the degrading effects of sin, we will be eternally grateful. That’s a pretty good plan if you ask me. Thank you, Lord.
As I have said, Eternal Life starts now. And however imperfect our praises are now, they still are born out of God’s love. I would like to propose that Appreciation should be among the defining characteristics of a Christian living in the world. Yes, of course, appreciation to God for His abundant gifts. But also appreciation for others when they live responsibly and show kindness. You know, if your heart is truly full of gratitude, something’s going to seep out and get others wet. There is no one who loves God without loving people (I Jn 4:20-21). So too, there’s no one who is thankful to God without being appreciative to others, and that generously and spontaneously.
But saying ‘thank you’ to others is only a starting point. It continues by being grateful for a job. Or a friend. Or a government. Or an employee. Or… lots of people and lots of situations. Sometimes it happens that we open our eyes and look out the window and think, “My, how beautiful this world is.” I suggest that we also sometimes look at those around us and in our lives and think, “I’m glad I know you. I think I’ll tell you so. Right now.” You know, it means a lot for a wife to hear an ‘I love you’ once and a while, especially if she knows if her husband really, really means it. So too, friends or acquaintances are lifted up and encouraged by a pat on the back or a pat on the soul (which is what a compliment is).
Loving the world isn’t always so easy, but it becomes easier when we are loved and feel it. As Christians, we have an unfair advantage because the Living God indwells us (in the Person of the Holy Spirit). Equally unfair is having the object of our desire being the personification of God’s Love, namely, Jesus Christ. That there are unloving Christians astounds me, eventho I know this is true (and I have been one at times). The same goes for unthankful Christians. I pray that in their case that this is the effect of an immature faith rather than the evidence of not really being saved, which can also be true.
I hope that I speak for all Christians in saying that it is life’s great quest to become more loving, more thankful, more forgiving, more merciful, more Christ-like, but without compromising righteousness and truth. This paradox is only possible through the Christian faith.
There is a short verse in Psalms that is actually an impossibility without God’s help, namely Ps 85:10 - “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed.” Think about it. “Righteousness.” Variously defined as perfect justice or perfect morality. Who wants that? Who would feel relaxed and restful around that? Can you imagine living with a goody two-shoes all your life, being wed to a completely virtuous person? Yet authentic Christianity is just that. It weds strictness to gentleness. It is pure but willing to eat with sinners. Righteous but quick to forgive. Perfectly exampled for us by our Savior during His life on earth. [Did you ever marvel at the ‘miracle’ of Jesus’ ministry. Here was a man who was perfectly righteous and pure and yet sinners were drawn to Him. They couldn’t keep away from Him. And He was happy to be around them.]
But being ‘loving’ does not mean accepting and glossing over sin. There are Christians who see it so. Homosexuality, co-habitation, abortion, euthanasia,… the whole list espoused by the political left, finds just as many Christian advocates as it does secular ones. Jesus never did that. He confronted hypocrisy* with scathing condemnation and said to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” But He also forgave His best friend’s (Peter’s) betrayal and additionally told that same woman, “neither do I condemn you.” Do you see it? It’s much more than condemning the sin and not the sinner. It’s love and righteousness acting together. It’s condemning the sin and mourning over the sinners who would cling to it, and it is forgiving the sin and remembering that we ourselves have been forgiven soooo much. It is a paradox that finds its nexus in the person of Jesus.
*[Examples of Christian hypocrisy: How can you rail at the inhumane treatment of animals and yet not bat an eye at the video games that brutalize the soul with egregious violence, and more than that, the souls of children? How can you bemoan teenage pregnancy and yet hold your silence at the movies, television, and advertising that got her that way by portraying and reinforcing immoral choices, disrespect of parents, and materialistic values? Are you righteously indignant over environmental tragedies? Where is your indignation about the pollution of the soul that pornography inflicts? Are you tolerant of other religions and points of view? Good. Are you tolerant of those who demean your Savior, who call your Bible a fable, and your God, an illusion? Yes? Good. We must never overcome evil with evil, but is not your heart overwhelmingly sad? No? That’s not good.][but I digress… ]
Gratitude, Christian gratitude, also finds a paradox in our sense of need. We are very needy, you know. We need, desperately need, God’s love, His protection, His blessings. Yet if these all were to cease tomorrow, all we could do would be to praise His name for the innumerable kindnesses he has already extended, and say like the song, “Di di aynu.”)( “It would have been enough for us.”)
Again, I hope I speak for all Christians when I say that we would indeed feel lost without Him. We would be without hope. There is never a moment we want to say, “O.K., God, stand aside. I’ll handle it from here.”(Eventho sometimes we live that way.)(Me included.) For all the wondrous provisions of the Faith and the blessings He has bestowed, we still feel dependant, nay fragile, nay foolish. It is indeed a paradox to have undiminished confidence and realistic doubt at the same time. To feel blessed and needy in the same stroke. Full, and yet, always hungry. Again, I submit that this is the genius of Christianity.
Based on I Cor 13, we should be the Loving experts. After all, as I have said, we have the Spirit of the loving, living God in us, and His incarnate, loving Son as our hope, ideal, and desire. I say now also that we should be the Gratitude experts. We have so much to be grateful for, and so many opportunities to express it.
If you’ve got joy, you’re gonna laugh (and sing). If you’ve got sorrow (for your sins), you’re gonna cry (out to God in repentance). If you feel loved, you’re gonna love. If you have hope, you’re gonna persevere. These are the outworkings of faith. So it is with grateful living.