The great 20th century Reformed theologian Karl Barth once wrote: “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.”
What Barth and the Reformed tradition understand is that the core of the Christian story revolves around grace and gratitude. God’s actions are defined by grace. Throughout the Biblical narrative we see God acting graciously: creating the universe, calling a people to know God, liberating the oppressed, and becoming human.
We also see that our response to God’s grace is gratitude. But it is essential that we get the order correct; grace always precedes gratitude. Gratitude toward God does not earn grace but is always the response to what God has already done.
The season of Thanksgiving is one of the few times in our culture when we are encouraged to express gratitude. But even when gratitude is at the heart of our faith, it can be difficult to feel, express, and enact.
In the opening of her book Grateful, church historian and theologian Diana Butler Bass writes: “Then there is that painful Thanksgiving dinner exercise in which no one eats until everyone at the table says something they are thankful for. It is supposed to remind us about the real meaning of the holiday. But it feels more like a turkey hostage situation than a spiritual exercise in grace. I feel thankful when it ends.”
Whether or not we are in a similar turkey hostage situation later this week, it is helpful to remember the gifts of life and love around us. In a world consumed with violence and brokenness, it is easy to lose sight of the good and beautiful in our midst.
Gratitude is a sort of resistance in the world; a refusal to be trapped by violence and brokenness. It does not mean that terrible things are not happening or that we simply ignore and overlook the tragic and evil in our midst, but choosing a life of gratitude is choosing to see the universe and life as gifts.
Air, soil, and water are gifts. Friendship, love, and family are gifts.
As Diana Butler Bass writes, “We live on a gifted planet. Everything we need is here, with us. We freely respond to these gifts by choosing a life of mutual care.”
In this season of Thanksgiving, may we choose gratitude. Not just for Thursday, but for our lives. May we receive the abundant gifts God has blessed us with and share these gifts with others. Happy Thanksgiving!