‘Behold, all souls are mine’: The gratitude quandary
What do you give thanks for?
Since finding faith in God and Christ, my religious experience and study has caused me to frequently ask this question. When I’m giving thanks in prayer, as we’re commanded to do with good reason, for what should I thank the Lord?
I’ve wrestled with this idea because, as a bit of an overthinker, I have often thought to myself that some of that for which I give thanks is but trivial at best, and at worst implies a supposition about God’s favor toward me that is highly inappropriate.
Let me take you through my thinking.
Say I give thanks to God for my house. Of course, I am grateful for it, and of course I see God’s hands in all that is good in my life. But if I suppose that God blessed me with a house, aren’t I supposing that He necessarily chose to not bless someone who struggles with homelessness with the same?
Or what if I thank God for this country, in which, surely, I am grateful to live. Am I suggesting that God chose me to be born in this prosperous, free political structure, while choosing others to be born in war-torn, impoverished or otherwise dangerous countries?
There are faiths or versions of faiths that do believe this. There are folks in certain religions and even within my own that believe, at times outwardly, at times less so, that God somehow prefers those to whom he gives easier, simpler or more comfortable lives.
I’m extraordinarily uncomfortable with that idea.
I don’t believe it’s doctrinal. Look at this passage in Ezekiel, by way of one example:
Ezekiel 18:2-5 and 8-9 read, “What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right … (and) hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man, hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God.”
In the same chapter, the Lord makes clear that if a sinful father has a son who is righteous, the son is not chastened for the father’s sins, and vice-versa. He also speaks of the power of repentance during mortal life. Verses 19-22 read as follows:
“Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
So, back to gratitude. If we don’t believe we are preordained to the curse of discomfort or misfortune, and I don’t, why, then should we thank God for the apparent accident of our fortuitous birth? For a time, I did not. Then my darling wife set me straight.
All good things come from God, she said, and while we might be uncomfortable with our apparently superior blessings, true gratitude for our worldly comforts ought to come with it an overwhelming urge to share those comforts with those who are blessed in a different way.
She didn’t quote me the following passage, but further study of my own helped me see things her way.
Here’s a well-known New Testament passage, out of the Gospel of John.
John 9:1-3 reads as follows:
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a blind man which was blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
What a powerful statement by the Savior. If this man’s blindness was given him that the works of God be made manifest in him — and, of course, the Savior then went on to give the man his sight by the power of God that was in Jesus — how are we to suppose the apparent misfortunes of another ought to be perceived? What is our duty in regard to them, or has the Savior not made that clear enough? If not, consider Matthew 25. I’ll leave that to you for the sake of space in this writing.
And, perhaps moreover, what does this scripture tell us about how we should perceive our own challenges? What is the purpose of trials in our lives, and do we give thanks for those?
If our own failures, our own misfortunes, our own tragedies, our own disappointments and frustrations are, in fact, given us by God in order to make His works manifest in us, should we not be immensely grateful for them, as well as for those mercies like creature comforts and fortuitous locations of birth? I argue that we absolutely should.
I’ve tried, therefore, to learn from this revelatory clarification. I now make an effort to be grateful for my challenges and my mercies both — and to see the challenges and struggles of others as my duty to remedy, that the works of God may be made manifest in them as well as in me. I invite you to consider the same practice.
Cuyler Meade is the editor of the Craig Press, but this column represents his personal religious beliefs and not necessarily the opinions of the newspaper.
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