Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Gratus adversus eum esse quisquam potest, qui beneficium aut superbe abiecit aut iratus impegit aut fatigatus, ut molestia careret, dedit? ... ne deos quidem immortales ab hac tam effusa nec ecssante benignitate sacrilegi neclegentesque eorum deterrent. Utuntur naturea sua et cuncta interque ella ipsos munerum suorum malos interpretes iuvant.

Who is able to be grateful to another for a benefit haughtily thrust upon him [in condescension], or pushed on him in irritation, or given out of a sense of fatigue in order to put an end to trouble? ... Not even the immortal gods are deterred from showing effuse and unceasing benevolence to those who are sacrilegious and negligent toward them. For they act according to their own nature and share their bounty, even with those who are evil interpreters of their aid.

-Seneca's De Beneficiis, Book I:7,9 (ESS 3-5,7)

God has poured out His gifts on His people through Jesus Christ. It would be difficult to be grateful for His merciful salvation if, as Seneca says, it had been haughtily thrust upon us in condescension. This is not the case. It could easily come across this way, however, with all of the talk about "glory of God," "ascribing to the Lord glory," and countless other phrases that serve to illustrate the incredible upsurge in American religion of God's glory and transcendence.

If God is so very holy and separate from us, if He is so transcendent and unapproachable, if our duty is chiefly to glorify God and recognize helplessly His eternal mystery and grandeur, then it would be easy to interpret His gifts as "haughtily thrust upon us." As a former Calvinist, I finally came to the conclusion that the "God of glory" was selfish. He gives us gifts like salvation, joy, and eternal life but always "for His glory." That's what I'd always been taught. I finally decided that such a narcissistic deity was unworthy of my thanks, much less my adoration. I mean - what a schmuck!

It wasn't until I was taught to look to Christ and Him crucified to find my God that I began to feel true gratitude for His gifts. Here is no deity haughtily thrusting gifts upon us "to glorify Himself." Here at the cross I find a beaten, battered, and bloody deity. Here I find a God who does not haughtily give gifts from on high, but rather gives gifts from lowliness. Here is a God who does not give from His bounty, but sacrificially in His moment of great need and want. The very deity who lavishes upon mankind the water of life while Himself begging for water from the cross is the God whose gifts inspire incredible gratitude.

A friend wisely pointed out that modern worship practices speak of "lifting up Christ in worship," and "glorifying God in song," while the Holy Gospels' version of "lifting up Christ" is His being lifted up on the cross for all to see.

Seneca is right when he says that haughtily given gifts inspire no gratitude. Gifts given with the expectation of repayment and recognition hardly inspire gratitude; "surely they have received their reward already."

On the other hand, the gifts given by and through Jesus Christ are not haughtily given, but given in lowliness and meekness. They are truly gifts, given to the very men and women who receive them poorly and repay them never (nor ever could they). How, then, are they to be received?

With gratitude.


And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
-Saint Mark the Evangelist (12:41-44, ESV)


Steven G. said...

The glory of our God is precisely that for our sakes he comes down to the very depths, into human flesh, into the bread, into our mouths, our hearts our bosom: morevover, for our sakes he allows himself to be treated ingloriously both on the cross and on the altar, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that some eat the bread in an unworthy manner.
-Martin Luther

Steven G. said...

Was your Ordination this last Sunday?

Orycteropus Afer said...

Coming back soon, Lucilius? We miss you and Our Seneca.