The Attitude of Gratitude is Not Native
Anyone honest with themselves will confess how hard it is to express a disposition of gratitude for more than a few minutes. Even when we are given a gift of great value, our hearts wonder why we didn’t get it in our favorite color. Or worse, why we didn’t get two. Since the fall in Genesis 3, we have a propensity toward an insatiable desire for more and more. This facet of human life is observed around the world throughout the ages. The ancient Greeks tried to create philosophies that curbed desired, and far Eastern philosophies sought enlightenment through negating such worldly desires. One such example is Seneca, who held that ingratitude is worse than murder, adultery, tyranny, or sacrilege.
Anyone who has been around children playing together will readily recognize the issue. But it is not just toddlers and toys that are the problem. The same is true for adults desiring promotions at work, bigger houses, shiny new trucks, or grander vacations. However, the root of the matter is not materialistic lives. Materialism is a symptom of the underlying deficiency. The real problem is that we have a conflated view of self and believe in an egocentric universe (See Jean Twenge, The Narcissism Epidemic).
We believe we are entitled to the biggest, best, and most. This conflated view of the self is a killer to gratitude and contentment. It robs us of remembering what we truly have received that is good. For this reason, it is right for us to say that an attitude of gratitude is not native to the human condition. It is not natural for us to feel gratitude for long.
We certainly find this to be true of our hearts in life, in the lives of our children, and in our culture. One clear example in Scripture of this lack of gratitude is Genesis 3–4. When we consider the hearts and attitudes of Adam and Eve, we should be shocked at their disposition.
In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve commit a horrific act of violence against God. Not only do they fail to obey him positively, but they also engage in transgressing his commands. The situation is worse when they begin to point fingers of blame. Adam dares to blame God for his own sins. It is, therefore, shocking how loving the Father is in showing mercy to them. He turns from obliterating them to slaughtering innocent animals for their sake. God strikes creation to save his beloved creatures. God sheds the blood of animals to save Adam and Eve. Furthermore, he makes a promise of the Gospel to save them and restore them in Gen 3:15.
The only thing more shocking in Genesis 3–4 is the lack of gratitude by Adam and Eve. Nothing in Genesis 3 displays a heart of thankfulness. There is no hint of gratitude or humility on the part of our first parents. In the face of an incalculable gift, they say nothing positive in response. Like a child at a party unwrapping a gift only to toss it aside and start ripping into the next one.
The saddest thing is that the problem is not only a lack of gratitude, but there is also overt arrogance and egotism on the part of our parents. While God promised to provide the solution, and he promised to provide the warrior-child, in Gen 4:1, we find our parents going in a different direction. At the birth of the first naturally born human, she says, ‘I have gotten a child,’ and God was on the side helping. Eve displays a heart of conflated self-confidence like the hearts at the rickety Tower of Babel (Gen 11). She places all her hopes on Cain and even names her second son ‘vapor’ (Abel) as if he were of no consequence.
Adam and Eve were promised salvation, but they were not grateful, and they did not cling to God for his present help for life. Gratitude was not their natural response. They were going to try and build their way back into heaven. But that all came crashing down when their favorite child kills the good child and becomes cursed by God (Gen 4:8-11).
Adam and Eve experienced a lived Psalm of Lament. After the trauma of crushed hopes and false passions coming collapsing on top of them, Adam and Eve turn back to God. In Gen 4:25, Adam and Eve rightly confess that God has provided; he alone should be praised and thanked for his work. And it is through those tears of loss and suffering that the people began to call upon the name of the Lord (Gen 4:26; similarly Exo 2:23-25). But, of course, it is only a few chapters later that this cry for help turns to “every intention of the thoughts of peoples’ heart being only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). The attitude of gratitude is not natural, and even when it blossoms, it fades quickly.
Thanks be to our Father that the Christian has a much clearer view of what to be grateful to God for. The past and present work of Christ is a wellspring of immeasurable gifts. They are more than sufficient to nourish a heart and life of gratitude. For this reason, we must continually come back to think and pray over these things (Phil 4:8). We must be vigilant in cultivating gratitude to Christ as a safeguard against wayward sins. While the world tries to sell us a message of entitlement, Christ proclaims again, “I have given, and I am giving.” So let us come with open hands to dine richly on Christ’s grace and gracious gifts without trying to buy it ourselves (Isaiah 55:1-2).
Pastor Dr. Chris S. Stevens
Seneca, de. Beneficiis, 1.10.4. Similarly Xenophon (Memorabilia 2.2), says “Ingratitude is an offense, the more heinous in proportion to the benefits received.” Furthermore, Cicero (Att. 8.4) held ingratitude as inclusive of all sins.