The Sin of Ingratitude
Joey Adams told a joke that goes like this: Did you ever hear about the ungrateful lady at the beach who had a little child with her? She was too close to the water, and a big wave came in. By the time the water went back into the sea, she realized her son was missing.
She looked all around for her little boy and cried out: “Melvin…Melvin…where are you, Melvin?” She realized he had been swept out to sea. So she prayed, “Oh, dear and merciful Father, please…please…take pity on me and return my beautiful child. I will promise eternal gratitude to you…I’ll never cheat on my income tax again. I’ll be kind to my mother-in-law. I’ll give up smoking…Anything…Anything… only please grant me this one favor and return my son.”
Just then the next wave washed in, and there he was, safe and sound. Then she looks up to God and says, “So where’s his hat?”
Ingratitude runs deep in the human heart. Dostoyevsky once called man “the ungrateful biped.”
What a nice thing to have a national holiday dedicated to the giving of thanks to God.
In addition to praise and Bible-reading, I have begun to start my Thanksgiving days by participating in a 5k or 10k run. I “ran” (I’m pretty slow) a 10k the other year, and there was a man with half a body using a skateboard and with hands covered with thick gloves. He pushed himself through the whole thing—6.2 miles.
I found out after the race that he had been born that way, and he has even participated in the New York City Marathon. Life dealt him a heavy blow, but he took it in stride and with gratitude nonetheless. I marvel at his attitude.
Ingratitude comes easily to most of us. My mom used to always say: “As a rule, a man’s a fool; / When it’s hot, he wants it cool. / When it’s cool, he wants it hot— / Always wanting what is not.”
“Give a man everything he wants,” declared Immanuel Kant, “and at that moment, everything will not be everything.”
This morning I was struggling to read the very opening of John’s Gospel in the Greek New Testament. One of the things he says there of Jesus is that “Without Him nothing was made that has been made.” That means you, me, everybody, and everything. Yet how many give Him thanks? Nonetheless, every beat of every human heart is by His grace.
I think in many ways our nation is rife with ingratitude. We have been blessed in innumerable ways, yet through it all, we have forgotten the source of that blessing.
America’s history is summed up well in 1702 by the great Puritan minister Cotton Mather. He said, “Religion begat prosperity, and the daughter hath consumed the mother.” America became prosperous because of our Christian roots. But in our prosperity, we have forgotten God. As Pastor Paul Jehle of Plymouth, Massachusetts says, “We like the fruit, but not the root.”
Look at America—a nation that historically has been so blessed by God.
George Washington said in his First Inaugural Address (4/30/1789), “No people have more reason to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
He said in another context, “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”
Washington said America should be grateful. He was the first to declare (10/3/1789) a National Day of Thanksgiving to God. (These days you have to clarify that last point.) The same Congress that gave us the First Amendment (which is today being used to try to keep God out of the public arena) suggested to Washington that he make this declaration, in thanks for the Constitution.
Lincoln was the president who made Thanksgiving (to God) an annual event. He said America should be grateful. Even during the calamity of our nation’s greatest crisis, the Civil War, he said, Let us give thanks.
In a different proclamation (3/30/1863), he said America has amnesia—toward God, the source of our blessings. He noted, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown; but we have forgotten God.”
This Thanksgiving, may I suggest a simple exercise? Carve out a few minutes with a sheet of paper and list a hundred things that you’re grateful for. I have done that a few times, and I’m struck by how much I’m grateful for. I must admit it reminds me of how ungrateful I often am.
“Who is rich?” asked Ben Franklin: “He that rejoices in his Portion.” He also said, “Content[ment] makes poor men rich; Discontent[ment] makes rich Men poor.”
Warren Wiersbe wrote: “Yesterday God helped me, / Today He’ll do the same. How long will this continue? / Forever—praise His Name.”
I hope for more Americans that this Thanksgiving may be a meaningful time of genuine thanks to the Lord. To paraphrase a great Puritan prayer: “God, you’ve given me so many things. Give me one more thing—a grateful heart.”
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