In 2013, John Piper gave a powerful farewell to his pastorate at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He began with a quote from G.K. Chesterton, an author with a penchant for poignant, pithy quotes:
“The only way to enjoy even a weed is to feel unworthy even of a weed.”
To put it another way, nothing can truly be enjoyed without humble gratitude.
Gratitude dies when humility dies, and for the human race, humility died a long time ago.
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools...” - Romans 1:21-22
The advent of autonomy was the end of thankfulness. Legitimate thankfulness can only be offered to a Being who, in His authority and power, gave you something you did not produce yourself. Autonomous people are not so keen on that relational dynamic.
But can I really assert what I previously asserted? Is it impossible to truly enjoy anything without humble gratitude? Well, first of all, “humble gratitude” is redundant. There is no such thing as arrogant gratitude, or haughty gratitude, or snobbish gratitude. So we’ll take naked gratitude. Is it truly essential to the enjoyment of everything in this world?
The clear exception to that rule is the God who made the world. He is the happiest being in the universe, but also the Creator of Chesterton’s weed, and therefore needs no gratitude for it. He obviously doesn’t feel unworthy of the weed, but he also obviously enjoys it.
But you and I are not God. He is the Giver, and we are the collective receiver. We are creatures, and inescapably so, made without a proper experiential category for enjoying unreceived things. There are none of those for us, even when we consider our own “creations,” e.g., a scrapbook, a painting, or a physique. As the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians, “What do have that you did not receive?”
But we are not only creatures. We are sinful creatures. God has so orchestrated the universe that we, as his creatures, might not only be the happy receivers of all his good gifts, but the even happier receivers as we know ourselves to have been(and still be) ingrates.
Instead, we have rebelliously carved out an illusory niche for ourselves where we can imagine that we rule. We can imagine that we have created and earned and owned. We play pretend, putting on our fake crowns and strutting around with false authority.
But there is no true joy in an illusion. A rebellious creature by any other name would smell as foul. All ungrateful assumptions of ownership, of earning, of credit, are tainted with the tension and guilt of that rebellion. So only one, creaturely path to joy is left, and it is the path of gratitude. The path where “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” is always near my lips, with “I am the foremost of sinners” following close behind.
Let’s close with this example:
A house is angrily, rebelliously enjoyed(and therefore not truly enjoyed) when it is presumed to be the sole, well-earned property of its “owner.” He holds it greedily, yelling at neighborhood kids who would encroach upon the corners of his property.
The same house is gratefully enjoyed when the “owner” recognizes God as the true Owner, feeling humbled by the thought of such a small creature being entrusted with not only a comfortable shelter, but also the stewardship of it.
But only when he sits on the couch in that house, feels its comfort, and follows that comfort with the thought, “I have no right to sit in the warmth of a comfortable shelter. I deserve to be punished. But the Lord has mercifully pledged to comfort me throughout eternity,” will he ultimately enjoy that house.
So I exhort you to fight for a more constant consciousness of two realities: your creatureliness and your rebellion. The joy God has for you follows directly from those two things. If you want to enjoy houses or weeds or anything else, you must remember that “He gives to all [rebellious] people life and breath and everything else.”