Thanksgiving As The Meaning Of Life

Thanksgiving As The Meaning Of Life September 20, 2014

I’ve already written about the meaning of morality as worship (coda). I’ve already written (maybe only in my mind?) about the meaning of our existence as self-donation in imitation of the Persons of the Trinity. If God is the very nature of Being itself, as Scripture and the Scholastics say, and if God is a self-giving union of Persons, then, as Ratzinger puts it, the nature of being itself is being-in-relation. But there is more. This relation between the Persons of the Trinity is not any relation, but one of self-giving. To be, then, in the most fundamental sense, is to give, and even to give oneself.

Reading Balthasar helped sharpen things for me, and this understanding of the self-giving of the Persons of the Trinity. Balthasar writes of the Father’s eternal generation of the Son, and I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that Balthasar views the Father’s generation of the Son as a kind of kenosis, to which the Son’s response is one of thanksgiving. Greek for thanksgiving, of course, is eucharist. The Son’s act of self-giving on the Cross, then (and the total Paschal sequence, including the total abasement of Holy Saturday, which as we know is very important for Balthasar), then, is the perfect eucharist, both in the liturgical sense and in the sense of the act of thanksgiving of the Son to the Father.

The Son’s total mode of existence or relation towards the Father is one of thanksgiving. This means that we Christians, who are called to be little Christs, are called to be the same. Just as our imago Dei is not a “generic” image but an image of the God revealed in Christ, our lives must be one great act of worship, but not “generic” worship, but precisely thanksgiving, eucharist.

And in turn, this thanksgiving is not “generic” thanksgiving. In daily social interaction, there is always an implication or a hint of reciprocity in thanksgiving. It is part of a broader web of social obligations built on reciprocity. I give you thanks for buying me flowers because I am part of a society where ingratitude would fray the social bonds and be against my own self-interest. There is nothing of this in the thanksgiving of the Son to the Father, because the Father’s generation of the Son is an act of pure generosity, and the Son’s response is one of pure gratuity. There’s nothing the Son needs to “do” to get on his Father’s good side. This sort of thinking is totally alien to the Trinitarian economy.

Instead, thanksgiving, being the nature of our response to God and the true nature of our creaturely being as images of the Son, is its own justification. We give thanks to the Father because. There is no need for anything after this because. And should we want to put anything after this, we should hold it gingerly, with tongs, as the French colloquial expression has it. We give thanks to God because it is right? Surely, it is. And yet this seems to suppose that this thanksgiving is only the consequence of a moral law which could somehow preexist the economy of self-giving and eucharist of the Father and Son, and that obedience to this law would be the goal and thanksgiving the means, rather than the other way around. We give thanks to God because He saved us? Undoubtedly true. And yet it might suggest that this thanksgiving is conditioned by something else, namely the saving action of God, rather than being the condition of everything else. We give thanks to God because it will make us happy? In a way, yes–and yet, mostly (it should be obvious!) no. And so on.

God is fundamentally a being of total generosity and His every action is marked by total generosity. God is the only end in itself, and it is our fallen world that knows instrumental ends. Entering this Trinitarian mode of existence, the eucharistic life, therefore requires us to cleanse ourselves of zero-sum, reciprocal, what’s-in-it-for-me mindsets, and instead let our thanksgiving be its own justification and reward.

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