Yesterday in our Bible class we examined the Scriptures and challenged our human tendency towards ingratitude. Among the possible “cures” for ingratitude some suggested was the idea of comparing ourselves to those less fortunate. On the surface, I accepted the idea, because I’ve been around poverty and I’ve been in prisons, and I always feel a great sense of relief that God has not brought me that low (so far). And I do thank God because I am not hurting like those I’ve just seen.
However, today I’m rethinking the wisdom of comparing myself to others in this way. Isn’t that similar to the Pharisee in Luke 18.11 who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector”? I realize he was comparing his (perceived) righteousness with the wickedness of others, but he thanked God for it! He gave God the glory (in a sense) for his high righteousness, thinking he was blessed to be good while others were cursed to be evil. What he didn’t appreciate was that he was unrighteous and filthy. How would he have thanked God if he had realized his true moral state and spiritual standing?
If we flip it to a positive side, when we thank God that we are not like our poor neighbor, diseased uncle, or handicapped cousin, what are we really thinking? When we tell ourselves and God “it could be a lot worse,” how does that make us treat our fellow man and how does it prepare us for possible future misfortunes? I’m trying to think of an Old or New Testament saint who prayed to God in this way: “God, I thank you that I’m not like my poor neighbor.” They certainly thanked God for all the blessings in their lives and for His providential care keeping them from various troubles…but I can’t think of a place when they thanked God for treating them better than others.
What will happen when you are the one in the wheelchair, the one who loses “everything” to a fire, the one who loses the person dearest to you on earth? Will you still turn to the Lord with thanksgiving in your heart? I pray you will–but it won’t be because you’re comparing your wonderful situation to that of another less fortunate. You’ll praise God’s name and thank Him for who He is, for the relationship you have with Him, and for all the blessings you still recognize in your life despite the terrible pain currently on your heart. Like Job, you will affirm:
“The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1.21)
“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…” (Job 13.15)
Perhaps, like David in Psalm 30, you’ll reflect on God’s goodness as you remember His faithfulness:
1 I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up,
And have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God,
I cried to You for help, and You healed me.
3 O LORD, You have brought up my soul from Sheol;
You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit.
4 Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.
5 For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for a lifetime;
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
6 Now as for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I will never be moved.”
7 O LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong;
You hid Your face, I was dismayed.
8 To You, O LORD, I called,
And to the Lord I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?
10 “Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me;
O LORD, be my helper.”
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
12 That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
I’d love to read your comments on this.