It is the nature of man to be grateful. Each and every one of us, by virtue of our birth, has contracted an irreparable debt to the ages. We are born into a world of order – social order, political order, order in the family – and are capable of soaring to such heights as we may only because we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. A world of opportunities is spread before us, ripe for the taking, if only we are faithful to steward that which has been given to us.
How can we not be grateful? Truly we stand on the shoulders of giants. We live in a world of opportunity because of the sweat and toil of those who have gone before. Some took on the audacious task of carving a culture out of the vast wildernesses of this continent. Some were simply faithful in passing on the sacred traditions of Christianity from one generation to the next. Some were patrons of the art, shaping and molding the Western canon into the great books and works of art we enjoy today. Each of us has a ancestry which traces down to our parents, full of people much like you and I, who made hard decisions to bring us where we are today. Our very existence today, in this society, is because of the joint labors of billions who have gone before.
Our very birth into such a society leaves us so vastly in its debt that we can never hope to repay. But the irreparable debt is waived, and we're called simply to enjoy it, to steward it, and to pass it on to the next generation. To that, there can be no response but gratitude.
This all sounds quite scandalous to the modern ears. After all, the modern man is a self-made man. He recognizes no obligations to those from ages past, rather, he exerts his own will upon reality, fashions himself into his own liking and manufactures his own meaning. He strikes out on his own and makes himself in his own image, declaring to the world those two blasphemous words – “I am.”
But there is only so far man can go in rejecting the world in which he is placed. This self-made man is only capable of looking inward, at the world he has created. To get outside of himself would be to realize that he is not a self-made man at all, but rather a man made by the joint work of the generations stretching back through the farther reaches of human history. It might lead him to wonder, to imagination, or, perhaps, to gratitude.
Or it might lead him to encounter someone he doesn't particularly wish to meet. See, this massive human tradition, this order of Being stretching back towards the beginning of time, begs a source. It begs a ground of Being, an author. The self-made man, wrapped up inside himself, is safe from an encounter with such a person – he is, in a sense, safe from a genuine encounter with any persons at all. Once he gets outside of himself, he may find himself encountering others for the first time in his life, and there is one other person who could turn his life completely upside down.
Because there's another irreparable debt that we need to level. But, fortunately for us, there was a man who came down from heaven, Emmanuel, to level that debt. He suffered and died in excruciating pain to ransom the souls of those who rejected him. By his blood, the irreparable debt has been waived, we're called simply to enjoy it, to steward it, and to pass it on to the next generation.
To that, there can be no response but gratitude.
Posted by Nick Barden