Gratitude expresses an appreciation that what you have has been given to you, and that what you have you have not earned. And so when targeted towards God it is absolutely fitting. Not only for life and breath and health, but in being who I am with the gifts and talents I have, whatever they may be. The gifts I have are gifts, I was born with them. Gratitude is just an obvious and reasonable response.
But at the same time gratitude is also a very dangerous thing. Because especially when gratitude is expressed between people, there is often an undercurrent of wanting to repay what has been given.
If someone goes out of their way to help me, helps me move house or gives me a lift, there is often the sometimes unconscious desire to repay their generosity. To make sure I’m there to help them out in a way and with an enthusiasm I wouldn’t have towards the average person who needed a hand. Or to make sure I give them a lift next time we’re carpooling somewhere.
Often unnoticed and often below the surface of gratitude is the desire to repay the debt and clear the balance. And maybe that’s a good thing and maybe not. But if that undercurrent slips into our gratitude to God it is an extraordinarily dangerous thing.
Two reasons come to mind as to why it’s dangerous:
1) It’s deluded.
It’s not even possible to pay God back. Not simply because the debt is too big – although it is – but because even in the very act of service towards God you are drawing on resources that God is giving you. So whatever action it is you are doing to repay him only puts you more in his debt.
Peter puts it like this in 1 Peter 4:
10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
If anyone serves he should do it with the strength that God provides. Whenever you serve it is using the strength that God provides because he’s the one who keeps your heart beating and decides when it will stop.
So it’s actually not possible to repay him and when you think you are it is only obscuring the true reality of the situation.
2) It’s prideful.
It takes a lot of humility to admit that you’re in a situation that you can’t get out of and where you aren’t able to help yourself in any way. And so to be able to contribute somehow and to somehow not be as completely dependent isn’t as rough on the ego and isn’t as confronting to our sense of self-sufficiency.
But in the end all that is pride. God offers salvation free of charge, completely by grace, never to be earned. All we do is put aside our mirage of self-sufficiency and receive the gift by faith.
And so gratitude is appropriate because it’s a gift. But gratitude can be a dangerous trojan horse if lurking within is a desire to somehow repay or contribute to the gift.