Gratitude (Happy Thanksgiving)

25 November 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant


It’s one of those words that means what it says; thanksgiving refers to “giving thanks.”

Gratitude has perhaps been the final casualty of today’s technology-driven culture.  The worship of “self” has minimized – if not eliminated – the true concept of gratitude from the public sphere.  In its place, man has elevated the Protagorean delusion that man is the measure of all things, the fruits of which manifest themselves in the forms of autonomy and entitlement.

But this is not how we were meant to be.


Hebrew scripture speaks of man as having been created in the tselem, or “image” of God.  In previous posts we looked at creativity as one of the implications of this doctrine.  But today I argue that another implication is that of relationality.  Man was created to relate to both creation (nature and his fellow man) and Creator.

Yet we know from the progress of revelation and from systematic theology that God is both one and three.  The Trinity states that Father, Son and Spirit share in God’s unified attributes, yet exist as three separate entities.

And the Trinity exists in perfect, timeless relationship with one another, expressed in the doctrine known as perichoresis.  Casual readers will recognize a similarity to the English word “choreography.”  Perichoresis literally means “to dance around.”  Perichoresis refers to the manner in which the members of the Trinity mutually indwell one another in perfect community.  Miroslav Volf defined perichoresis as “reciprocal interiority,” and  Barth said that “[perichoresis] asserts that the divine modes of existence condition and permeate one another mutually with such perfection that one is as invariably in the other two as the other two are in the one.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, 425)  The Trinity represents a community that is at once diverse and unified in itself.


And so if man is created in this image, and this image is one of community, then man is also designed to “mutually indwell” his Creator and one another in perfect, intimate community.


But a casual glance at the news suggests otherwise, and in the flickering light of TV sets that speak of wars and rumors of wars, we recognize that man is deeply flawed.

Martin Luther defined “sin” as homo incurvatus in se, that “man is bent inward [incurved] upon himself.”  The mystery of creation quickly fades to tragedy.  Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails defines it plainly: we are “poisoned to the rotten core / too [messed] up to care anymore.”

The ultimate outworking of this idea is that of autonomy.  Since the day of Eden’s collapse, man has sought to anesthetize and numb himself to his pitiable condition through his own self-sufficiency.  Success, possessions and even entertainment become trophies – nay, idols in which man finds his significance and purpose.


But the gospel teaches us that we are not forever damned to a life of self-absorption.  German writer Jürgen Moltmann, says that the cross “…sets him free from his inhuman hubris, to restore his true human nature.  It makes the Homo incurvatus in se once again open to God and his neighbor, and gives Narcissus the power to love someone else.” (Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p. 72-3)

The gospel teaches us to look beyond ourselves and see one another face to face.  The gospel teaches us that we are not all we have, and in the promises of God we find all we could ever want.  And the fruit of this promise is gratitude.

Autonomy is the result of the thorns and thistles of this world.  Gratitude is the flower which germinates from the fertile soil of God’s grace.

And so this thanksgiving, we would do well to remind ourselves that the value of the present life is found not in the blessings we have received, but in the Giver of all blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving.

25 November 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.

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