In the month when many are counting blessings, Christians have the longest lists; the bounty that others can’t approach. In fact, those who do not know Christ cannot even know that they don’t know how to be truly thankful. Let’s take a minute to look at the first chapters of one Old Testament book and one New Testament book as we contemplate gratitude as a starting point to holiness and, conversely, ingratitude as the genesis of immorality.
The first four chapters of Isaiah are anything but complimentary of the nation of Judah. In fact they are an indictment from the Lord; an indictment the likes of which rivals any of the arraigning passages of scripture. As I read Isaiah one yesterday, I could not help but be reminded of the New Testament condemnation of the heathen people found in Romans chapter one. I think it very interesting and relevant to America today that the dire state of both cultures began with the sin of ingratitude:
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider (Is. 1:3).
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful… (Rom.1:21a).
It’s interesting, also, that when a recognition of the Source of good gifts and, thus, a glorification of that Source was missing, all sorts of vile behaviors and the acceptance of resultant atrocities became commonplace.
If you look, you can find that both cultures were characterized by those who were hypocritical, those who were unmerciful to the needy, those who were murderers and those who were idolaters. Today’s challenge is to locate these sins in Isaiah one and in Romans one. Also, notice the punishment promised in the last verse of each of the passages. It’s almost as if the two passages had the same Author!
Finally, as you contemplate these two cultures, separated by hundreds of years and by a big body of water, and yet so very much alike, contemplate one more culture: your own.
I was recently engaged in conversation with a woman who expressed to me her excitement that soon she would be able to quit her job. I was excited for her, but then she went on to explain that if she lowered her income to a certain level, then her rent would be paid by the government. With the extra money she would “make” by not having to pay rent and by collecting unemployment (if she could swing that), she would be able to pay her bills. In lowering her income, she would also lower her grocery bill, because she would be able to get government food stamps. Another woman recently became very angry at me when I told her that our congregation wished to apply a large amount of money to a medical debt she owed. The reason for her anger?…she thought she “deserved” to be given the cash to use as she saw fit.
It occurs to me that there is a large segment of our society that has adopted the “I deserve” mentality rather than the “I appreciate” mentality. People who choose not to work are among those who protest against the government and society for what they would call the “uneven distribution of funds,” thus biting the very hand that feeds them. (Is it any wonder when we look at Isaiah one and Romans one, that these protests are problematic, to say the least, because of violence and sex crimes?) School textbooks include large sections about the cultural celebration we know as Thanksgiving without making mention of the divine blessing Source that is the Benefactor of all. People throw around the word “right” as if it applies to every desire that pops into human consciousness: healthcare, privacy, home-ownership, insurance, even heaven. Girlfriends, some things that we enjoy are simply undeserved blessings!
Further, some people have even come to think about sin as a deserved privilege: the “right” to choose to kill my pre-born baby, the “right” to be happy and thus divorce my mate, the “right” to kill myself or my spouse if I/she grow(s) old or become(s) debilitated. One father even told his elders recently that his daughter “deserves to go to the prom”!
What we deserve is described in the last verse of each of these chapters:
And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them (Is. 1:31).
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:32).
May we always acknowledge with the deepest possible human gratitude our allegiance to the plans and our awe at the power of the Giver of all good gifts. May we never forget our permanent status before Him of being undeserving of these gifts. It is only with gratitude in our hearts that we can avoid what comes, in these two chapters, between ingratitude and eternal death: hypocrisy, a lack of mercy, all manner of vile behaviors (including murder), and, at last, the making and worship of our own idols in place of the God who can deliver us from death.