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Home arrow Religion arrow The Theological Roots of Christian Gratitude
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The Dynamic of Christian Theology

Christian theology is not literal or static: it is dynamic and developing as I hope will become apparent in what follows. It is sufficient at this point to note that a dimension of the use of theological language is performative; to employ the language is to do something that is more than passively recognizing and acknowledging a state of affairs (Austin, 1962). The Christian is grateful to God for creation, God’s unmerited, gracious gift; we are grateful to God for the gift of curiosity, which offers the opportunity to learn about the world of which we are a part, and to employ our understanding to enhance human well-being. We are grateful for what we inherit from the past and the desire to enter into the conversation of the generations with a view to what we might leave as a legacy. We are also grateful that the misuse of God’s gifts and the betrayal of our inheritance do not lead God to abandon us: there is always the divinely renewed gift of new opportunity.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the doctrine in which Christians state their belief that God has committed and does commit himself to the future perfection of the creation that he will never neglect. Moreover, the absolute continuity of God’s gracious presence is explored through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which include holiness, freedom, authority, justice, understanding, wisdom, and above all, love. The dynamic relationship of God with creation and his interaction with humankind (itself a part of that creation) explains why Christians use the term “Trinity” to refer to God. By saying it, they attempt to express the mutually interactive dynamism of love, which informs the relationships within the Godhead of the Persons of God himself— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the model that offers to the active perfecting of all human relationships, personal and societal.

All of this means that theological inquiry is not static: it is an eternal search for wisdom that finds its life within a world that is diminished if it excludes the horizon of God. Humans flourish when they are essentially (the word is used deliberately) grateful, not only for the fact of God’s gracious gift of the world, but also and especially for God’s loving gift of God’s self. The exploration of what this means for human self-understanding and human relationships, for our knowledge of the creation and what use we can rightly make of that knowledge, is a key ingredient of theological inquiry. The virtue of gratitude frees persons, communities, and societies to love the world and one another because they know themselves to be flourishing in the love of God.

This, I believe, has powerful relevance for personal life and professional practice, which it is often said have come to be concerned with narrow conformity to external standards rather than energized by moral sensitivity. My intention is to explore the concept of gratitude as it emerges in the Christian tradition and is explored in Christian theology to see whether it is indeed a virtue that, if grasped in its fullness, could inform a renewal of both personal life and professional practice. I shall argue that professional persons, grateful for what they inherit and for the trust that society and the client place in them as responsible persons, will find themselves liberated both as persons and as professionals when they realize the wholeness of the context in which they live, move, and have their being. The deeper the awareness of the lively context, the greater the chance that the professional will accept the opportunities and responsibilities open to him or her. My purpose is practical in the sense that I believe theological reflections on the theological underpinnings of gratitude can inform the mind of the professional in practice. The professional, I shall emphasize, remains a “person-in-relation” (a term used by Macmurray [1961] to express the interconnectedness of persons; no professional can cease to be a person-in-relation), even as he or she engages with the client. In fact, this is disguised in the development of the professions and their ability to exercise power. Temptations have come with this.

 
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