Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How We Can Move from Thanklessness to Thankfulness

In thinking about my previous post, I was reminded of my favorite movie scene of all time. It actually appears in one of the worst movies of all time, "Joe versus the Volcano." If you thought Tom Hanks always made good movies, you were apparently unaware of this little gem. However, the movie, to me at least, was worth watching for this one scene alone.

If you're not familiar with the movie, it's about Joe, a man who has lived his life in a gloomy, dead end job, alone and without anything else in life, and has now been told that he is dying from an untreatable brain tumor. He is then asked by his boss to travel to an island and jump into a volcano because his boss is trying to make a deal with the tribal peoples there who believe that an angry god must be appeased by human sacrifice. Joe agrees to go and on his way, the boat sails into rough seas and sinks in a storm. He alone is left afloat on some luggage in the middle of the ocean, dehydrated and dying, and eventually passes out.

Now, you may think that if there was ever a man who should be embittered toward God, it was Joe. His job was awful. He had no one to love or to love him. He was told that he was dying, and now he wasn't even being allowed to accomplish one last thing in life. We become embittered against God for much, much less. So it would be understandable if Joe woke up from being passed out and simply cursed God for his life, but that's not what happens.

He wakes up in the middle of the night on his raft made of luggage, dying of thirst and weakening by the moment, looks up at the giant moon in front of him, and with as much strength as he can muster, rises to his feet. In awe of the giant moon, he suddenly realizes how big God is, and how little he is, and in so doing, he says in total resignation of himself to God, "Dear God, whose name I do not know - thank you for my life. I forgot how big... thank you. Thank you for my life."

Thank you for my life? Where is the "Why did you do this to me?" or the "Why didn't you give me this or that" or the "I deserved so much better than this"? Where is the wallowing in self pity for not having all of the things we think we should get in life, all the things others tell us we should have? There was only thankfulness, and the reason why Joe was thankful is because his sudden realization of the "bigness" of God shrunk him down to size. He no longer was thinking about himself as the center of his world, but realized that all that he had been given was a gift, and that he had been blessed to have had even the short life that others would have viewed as gloomy and not worth living.

You see, the bigness of God causes us to realize the same thing. When we see God as the center of the universe, we realize that our lives are but a miniscule part of it, and we have been blessed to have been given even the smallest of roles to play in such an awesome world that has been made and planned out by an awesome God. The greatness of God shrinks us and our own self importance, so that we are no longer looking at what we deserve and thanking or cursing God based upon whether we get it, but rather that we are continually living life in thankfulness for what we have already received, whether it was what we or others hoped for.

The awesomeness of God shrinks not only our unfulfilled hopes and desires, but along with them our bitterness for those hopes and desires when they are not received. We become content with whatever God gives to us, whether in riches or in poverty, in health or in sickness, in times of fellowship or loneliness, in joy or in suffering. Paul says as much when he tells the Philippians: "for I have learned to be  content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (4:11-13).

It's only when we are unaware of the greatness of God that we begin to magnify ourselves as gods and wonder why all in the world does not organize itself to please us accordingly. We begin to question God's goodness when He does not give us the life we wanted. After all, if I deserve a great life, according to my version of "great," then God has wronged me for not giving it to me. But the antidote to such self delusion and bitterness is to understand that there is no one like God, around whom the universe revolves. He alone is worthy to be given all things, even the very plans we have made for our lives, so that we remain grateful to Him when He decides to deviate from what we wanted out of life.

Paul had seen the awesomeness of God in Christ, and it shrunk him down to size. He, as a spiritually impoverished man, seeking to fill his lack through religious legalism, gazed not at the moon, but at the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and he could no longer seek the life he was once looking toward to fulfill him. For him, now, to live was Christ and to die was gain. All that mattered was Christ, because Christ was now revealed as bigger than life to him. And this is what God is. He is bigger than life. He is bigger than our lives, and we owe Him nothing but our thanks and gratitude for a life that we never deserved, for every breath that we never had any right to breathe. For good or for bad, and receive both from the Lord, we stand in awe of Him and His bigness, and together with Job, we bless rather than curse His name for it. 

So God, whose name I do now know, thank you for my life. I still don't really know how big you are, but I have seen enough of your bigness to know that I have been blessed with a life, whatever that life was always purposed by You to be, and have not deserved it. So thank You, thank You, thank You for my life.

1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights!
2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!
3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!
4 Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created.
6 He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away.
7 Praise the Lord from the earth, Sea monsters and all deeps;
8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;
9 Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars;
10 Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl;
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth;
12 Both young men and virgins; Old men and children.
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.
14 And He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise for all His godly ones; [Even] for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 148)

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