The Sad Evaporation of Wonder and its Ancient Antidote

By

My baby boy wriggles. Like many of us, he is impatient for food. He frets and fumes at the slow approach of his desire. But when it comes and he has taken a bite, a little dance follows. He shimmies in a thoughtless gesture of joy.

He does not know the history of his food, how we come to have it. He only knows that it’s from his mother’s hand and he loves it.

He is happily ignorant of all that goes into food, of the secret vocation of the farmer, the store clerk, the packagers, managers, and marketers all along the way. He does not know the hidden hand of God, working through vocation, to bring him daily bread. His prayers are random, giggling shouts of words he hears the rest of us offer up in thanks.

As we grow up, our mystery somehow decreases. Confronted with unnumbered wonders, we sigh and chew in gladless presumption. Our knowledge increases, but our wonder evaporates.

All of life is a kind of weary presumption. We have unspeakable kindnesses heaped upon us and we pout about the earth, grumbling under our breath.

It seems to me that maturity (of the best kind: growing up in Christ) is mostly demonstrated by instinctual gratitude and unprovoked gladness. And unprovoked isn’t quite right the right word. It will only seem such. For as we grow, won’t our hearts be awakened to the wonders everywhere to be seen, so that everyday we live and breathe and have God’s unmerited favor we are overwhelmed with thankfulness? We will always be provoked.

Paul writes (in Romans 1:18) of the unrighteous that they “suppress the truth.” The truth, like a helium-filled balloon, keeps popping up and must be shoved down again and again. These, to whom the wrath of God is being revealed, are intentional in their suppression…

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 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.”
(Romans 1:19-21 ESV –emphasis mine)

They knew God, but didn’t honor him as God or give thanks to him. It seems the underlying issue for every wicked act of rebellion we can do is failing to honor and give thanks to God. We do this in the face of plain evidence. We do this in spite of the clarity of truth. We have to go out of our way to suppress the truth.

Thankfulness is more than simply another virtue, it is a key to almost all virtues. If we are thankful, what idols will tempt us?

True enough, some of us are right now (and all of us have, or will be) suffering a hard providence. I don’t intend to make light of that, or act as though life isn’t hard. The world is broken, but there’s thanks to be given in the suffering. There’s good to be seen from the hand of God, as Job saw. It may make it harder if we see that the Bible doesn’t paint a picture of a feckless, far-off God during our suffering. We do not see a God who wrings his hands and sighs, “Oh, I wish there was something I could do.”

I know this: He has good intentions for his own. He means good for us even in our deepest pain, even as the hammer falls. The Lord gives and takes away and is forever to be praised.

That’s part of honoring God as God.

The accommodating God of our bent imagination, the one who tolerates the sin we love, but hates the ones that personally annoy us–or are unpopular now with trendsetters, or media–is an idol. The God who is there is not silent.

He is mysterious, but he is not tricky. He’s unfathomable but not capricious. When his son asks for bread, he will not give a stone.

I want a thankful heart. I want a humble heart. I need a miracle.

I want the wriggle of joy. I want the increased mystery that comes, paradoxically perhaps, with increased knowledge of and love for the God who is there.

Jesus is amazing. He was tempted in the wilderness with thirst (he had no drink). Unlike the children of Israel, he did not grumble. He was tempted with hunger but did not bypass the authority of God the Father. He did not give way to presumption and ingratitude. He submitted. The Son of God submitted to his Father, waiting to be glorified by the Father instead of taking control of the kingdoms of the world ahead of schedule.

Jesus is the first of the new kind of human that all who are in him become. Not those who grumble, but those who are deeply, joyfully, thankful.

Thankfulness–intentional thankfulness–is the ancient avenue to wonder. Let’s toward that joy.


23 Comments

  1. Lindsey

    Wonderful. We have in this past year, seen God’s hand in the midst of dark providence…and have come away so thankful because and in spite of our hardships. This articulates so well the beauty of suffering and the joy in being made new. Thank you for sharing!

  2. AustinP

    “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” Eph. 5:20 !

    I also wanted to tell the readers of the Rabbit Room to check out this website. http://www.gracegems.org.

    Click on the tab on the left hand side labeled “grace quotes”. And then the section “the loveliness of Jesus”. Feast on some of the most beautiful writing about our Master!

  3. Evan

    I do think you’re onto something. In Colossians 2, spiritual growth is also connected with thanksgiving:

    “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

    He goes on to remind them of what Christ did for them, and contrasts it with the “regulations” that some are trying to impose on them.

    The thought comes to my mind that perhaps one of the sources of legalism is a lack of the wonder that comes from a thankful heart. If that wonder is missing, it might be difficult to imagine that a person can follow Christ without having an accompanying list of rules. Perhaps?

  4. Debra Henderson

    Oh Sam, this is beautiful! I had to laugh at your choice of the word “ancient” after declaring it to be a word no one should be allowed to say…ha,ha.

    I love the stories you share about your children- thank you! We learn so much from them don’t we? The view through a child’s eyes is filled with awe and wonder – oh to see things with such clarity again!

    Our last trip with Ian just over a month before he passed was to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. As we stood atop Grandfather mountain on New Year’s day three years ago I was choked up looking about and wondering just how far into the valley our lives may dip that year-I knew we were on borrowed time. God comforted me by gently reminding me that He can move mountains. When I shared that with Ian, he replied, “Ohhhh, I’m SO glad I got to see them before He moved them!!”

    Ian’s awe and wonder naturally poured out thankfulness yet I love the thought you’ve expressed that the opposite is also true…

    “Thankfulness–intentional thankfulness–is the ancient avenue to wonder.”

    We’re encouraged in Psalms to bring a “sacrifice of thanksgiving”. In times of grief and sorrow it can indeed be a sacrifice! Yet, I agree with you…”Let’s toward that joy…”

  5. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Deb– As always, your words are lovely, revealing a beauty that is beyond the world. What Ian said was so sweet and funny and wonderfully deep. What faith. I love it. Thanks for pointing out how that goes both ways, wonder fuels gratitude.

    On “Ancient.” I know! Hilarious how these posts, scheduled ahead of time, have this way of showing some inconsistencies. When I saw that Pete had posted this today here, I thought of how it probably confuses people to follow a link over to my website and see that I’m actually a very silly fellow.

    Oh well. We’re all a study in contrasts, I guess.

    God bless you, my sister, and my brother, Tom. Love you guys.

  6. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Lindsey– Thank you so much. I appreciate you sharing that.

    AustinP- Thank you.

    Evan– I love that. I think that’s true of me. Ingratitude can, of course, also fuel lawlessness. I guess the main point is connection to the Vine. It just feels like my own thanklessness is such a mad crime in light of how much I’ve been given. Like the worst sort of kid at Christmas. Thanks!

  7. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Sam, I love this – thanks. As I have gotten older I have seen how much unbelief in me has fueled ungratefulness. Turn our eyes to the sovereign God, and faithe that he does all things well and for our benefit, and for the benefit of others through us, and our view of “problems” changes.

    And, although you’re quite a wonderfully silly fellow, you are much more than that.

  8. mike

    Romans 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

    This verse is haunting me as of late. I am beginning to believe that He blesses our mess and even our unthankfulness. If not why would He continue to draws.

    Yes Sam, I want the wonder back. I too want to be thank-fuller.

  9. Eowyn

    Great article. It reminds me a lot of what I’ve read (so far) of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. It truly does seem like those people that are the happiest are those that are continually giving thanks.

  10. Peter B

    “I want a thankful heart. I want a humble heart. I need a miracle.”

    Every once in a while I pick up Rich Mullins’ Growing Young and it reminds me of this very same thing. Thank you, Sam, for such soul-baring that tears down my walls of self-justification and looses the cavalry of conviction on this hardened heart.

  11. Chinwe

    “As we grow up, our mystery somehow decreases. Confronted with unnumbered wonders, we sigh and chew in gladless presumption. Our knowledge increases, but our wonder evaporates.

    All of life is a kind of weary presumption. We have unspeakable kindnesses heaped upon us and we pout about the earth, grumbling under our breath.”

    Good stuff.

    This reminds me of N.D.Wilson’s book, “Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl” in which he expresses wonder at the unfolding drama of this life that God (the Author/Creator) has put us in. He does such an interesting (and witty) job of illustrating the wonder of this world and attacking the source of our apathy and ingratitude.

    In this video, Wilson talks about his motivation for writing the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3kuCFGezek

    Also, here’s the trailer of the movie (which I haven’t seen): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wqcx9Ccht1I
    What’s that song I hear? Why it’s “Early in the Morning” by Andy Osenga! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm5uln-cPmc

  12. Carl

    Amazing and timely post, thank you so much.

    I was reminded and challenged to gratitude this weekend as the Lord moved in ways wonderous and mysterious. My wife and I went to the Oregon Coast to celebrate her birthday while her parents watched our children an hour inland. The beauty and peace of the ocean washed over us, and we were grateful.

    In the meantime, my son, daughter, and mother-in-law all had come down with a stomach bug when we called to check in Saturday night. My wife and I changed our plans and decided to head back home. On the way, the stomach bug hit my wife.
    Arriving back home, in the midst of a house incapacitated by sickness, I could only think, “Thank God that He doesn’t leave us in our sickness.” By this I meant our present condition, and our penultimate condition of sin sickness.

    Eowyn, I second the reference to Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts as I am currently reading it and being challenged to see, what she refers to as the “Ugly Beautiful,” that is, the ultimate redemption of all in light of Christ’s blood.

    Colossians 1:19-20
    “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”

  13. debbie stevenson

    you must slip over to a holyexperience.com and check our ann voskamp.
    also read her book 1000 gifts. it is all about gratitude. her writing is incredible.

  14. James Witmer

    Sam, I had to chuckle – my boy does the same thing, especially the fretting and fuming.

    I love the silly writing you mention in the comments, and it’s no contradiction – a thankful heart is a light heart. But every time you roll up your sleeves and wrestle truth onto the “page” for us, I am stirred, encouraged and convicted. Thank you!

    Oh, to be alive to the wonder that is our God… and praise Him for a natural world, and for friends, that remind us.

  15. betsy

    “He is mysterious, but he is not tricky. He’s unfathomable but not capricious.”

    I guess faith IS the believing–believing in those times of “hard providence” that he’s a bread-Giver, not a stone-thrower.

    yeah.

    I’m saving this one. Thank you.

  16. betsy

    Sorry, one more thing:

    was thinking about the lists of sins/evil attitudes that appear in different places in the Bible–like Mark 7 and Colossians 3.

    And, to borrow your word “antidote”–such is gratitude–or we mean contentment, really– to so many of them . . .

  17. SD Smith

    Ronald (G) MacDonald– Thanks, bro. Your encouragement always means so much.

    Mike– That really rings true. I could have been more clear on that.

    Eowyn– I hope to read that soon. Thanks!

    Chinwe– Thanks for mentioning that book. It’s one of my all-time favorites. The movie is great as well. I am a big NDW fan.

    Carl– Thanks for the rubber/road part of this.

    Debbie– Thanks, will do. Have read some at the site, but not the book yet.

    James– My man. Your words are so encouraging and affirming. And I love a man who starts sentences with “Oh,….” Thanks, bro.

    Betsy– Thanks so much. Yes, not diabolical (stone-thrower/accuser) but Fatherly Provider. “Here’s bread, here’s wine. Everything will be OK. I’ve taken care of it. You’re my child and you’re mine. I love you.”

  18. Kristen Peterson

    Sam, this is beautiful. Thank you for this reminder of the joy and ministry of work, in all its forms and the sacred grace that is our call to thankfulness.

    “He does not know the hidden hand of God, working through vocation, to bring him daily bread. ”

    I needed these words today.

  19. Annie

    Thank you for this powerful reflection. By blogland coincidence, I had just read another blog I follow that used the word ‘wriggle’ and echoed the same themes as you. It was a nice harmonic resonance of truth. Amen.

  20. Dan R.

    Just wanted to say thanks, now that I finally got around to reading this. It was, indeed, very good, and well-done.

    And I wanted to say that the 3rd to last paragraph, about Jesus and temptation, definitely reminded me of Jason Upton’s song “Hammer and an Awkward Nail”, in which he actually goes through this process of returning to wonder and thankfulness that we’re all talking about. The song (and the incidentally hilarious story behind it) is on Youtube several times, like here:

  21. Kelsey S.

    Oh wow. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with the world! I have linked to it on my blog and hope many others are touched by the beauty of your words.

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