Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thanksgiving or murmuring?

There are two different attitudes you can take to life. One is an attitude to recrimination and complaint. It isn’t hard. In a fallen world, there’s always something to complain about. You don’t even have to go looking. Everyday, unpleasant things happen close to home.

So you can curse and swear, get mad, harp on the problem of evil.

However, that’s counterproductive. Chronic grumbling has two effects: (i) it makes good things bad and (ii) bad things worse.

So you miss out on both counts. On the one hand, grumbling about your lot in life (or the suffering of others) doesn’t make a bad situation any better. Rather, it makes it even worse.

On the other hand, it also spoils the good things in life. You’re so busy complaining about how bad things are that you miss out on the good things which come your way. So this attitude is thoroughly poisonous.

The alternative is to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness. To thank God for all the plainly good things in life. Thank God for all the little goods in life–which we tend to neglect and forget. Overlook. Take for granted. But also learn to see the hidden good in things which, at the time, seemed to be an unmitigated evil.

In the programmatic statement of St. Paul, “All things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Incidentally, I’m quoting Joseph Fitzmyer’s translation of Rom 8:28. Fitzmyer is a Jesuit Bible scholar. So you can’t accuse me of loading the dice in favor of Calvinism by my choice of translations.

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to us, especially in the face of evil, but if you apply yourself and think about it, you can come to appreciate God’s providential hand in life. You can compare the past with the present and begin to see how God is bringing good out of evil.

It’s not just that you and I live in a fallen world. You and I are the product of a fallen world. So we should be grateful to be here at all. A “better” world would be better off without the likes of you and me. Yet we made the cut!

God could have chosen the A-team. Instead, he chose the B-team. The ones who are normally picked last.

Now, someone might exclaim: “That’s easy for you to say! You think you’re one of the elect. You have this wonderful future ahead of you. The best is yet to be. But what about the poor, benighted reprobates?”

Yet reprobation has a paradoxical aspect: If you believe in reprobation, you’re not a reprobate; if you’re reprobate, you don’t believe in reprobation. (Which is not to say that only reprobates deny reprobation.)

Reprobates don’t think they’re hellbound. They mock the idea of damnation.

What is more, they mock the idea of heaven. They think Christians are childish fools who can’t face the finality of death. As a result, Christians miss out on life because they’re pining for a nonexistent afterlife.

So there’s no point complaining on behalf of those who deny the very fate you complain about. Those who, what is more, mock the heavenly alternative.

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