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Home arrow Religion arrow The Theological Roots of Christian Gratitude
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Conclusion

Following the argument of Sarah Coakley, I suggest that when properly understood, an analogous vision lies behind the building of every community. Simply opposing evil by organizing constitutional arrangements and a legal system that will identify wrongdoing and determine the punishments that follow will be destructive to society if, at the same time, there is no practice prompted by a vision of what is good, acceptable, and of good report (Rom. 12:1-2).

Machiavelli explored this in his much-discussed and influential essay “Concerning Principalities,” known posthumously by its more familiar title, The Prince. His cunning thesis is not, as frequently presented, that the only “good” comes from following the decisions of a political leader, whatever that leader determines, but that in order to secure the peaceful continuity of any “imperial” power over a long period of time, a constitution has to be established that can be defended against every challenge. The “evil” is whatever challenges the state, whose necessary authority transcends that of any individual citizen. But it will only be possible to defeat the “evil” if the constitution is established so as to seek and express the “good.” Machiavelli writes, “Therefore a wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always and in every possible condition of things have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him . . . It is the nature of men to be as much bound by the benefits they confer as by those they receive. From which it follows that, everything considered, a prudent prince will not find it difficult to uphold the courage of his subjects both at the commencement and at the close of siege, if he possess provisions and means to defend himself’ (Machiavelli, 1935, pp.48- 49).

The provision of the necessities of life by the prince will require self-sacrifice and not merely the exercise of power if his authority is to ring true. What is more, the people must believe that he has the wherewithal, the self-confidence, and the desire to meet the demands that the situation places upon him and not simply to serve his own interests at their expense.

Every society and every professional relationship depends for its good on the giving of sacrificial service. God has what is required to meet the world’s needs and the desire to offer it; the evidence of this is implicit in the created order and in the person of Christ, for here it is made clear that what is required for the redemptively creative order of the world is God himself. The gratitude of the Christian is directed toward the Trinitarian God for his gift of himself; only then is it possible to be grateful for whatever things God might also be said to have given. Gratitude should be first for the person, not for the gifts, for on that person’s character will depend the value one puts on the gifts he or she has given.

I believe this to be the true character of professional relationships. They are concerned with persons—their characters and their capacity to accept responsibility and give themselves in service to others. They are not fulfilled by mere compliance with regulation determined by external authorities. The professional is concerned not merely to oppose evil but to promote the good. In order to take responsibility, it will be necessary always to want to give oneself in service to society at large—its well-being, prosperity, and happiness. In order to achieve this, the professional will have to have a true estimate of his or her own personal character because he or she first will have to learn to give attention to the person, his or her client, and not simply to the circumstances in which the client believes himself or herself to be embroiled or the rewards (i.e., gifts) with which the client will acknowledge his or her gratitude. This requires self-discipline and sensitivity if the professional is to know what it means to freely give attention. To this topic I turn in the following chapter.

 
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