"For the love of God"

When was the last time you heard this expression, so common just a generation ago? It seems to have dropped from our vernacular.

My impression is that grace before meals is also on the decline. If so, one wonders how families, unused to such prayer, celebrate Thanksgiving, the feast we observe today. Many I expect pause a few moments – perhaps awkwardly – before the turkey is sliced or the roast is carved in order to identify generally or specifically the benefits they enjoy. Certainly this is a laudable practice – even one that should be pursued more frequently than annually. But, is it really giving thanks?

Appreciation is not the same as gratitude. Appreciation is the acknowledgment of the value of something one has or receives. It involves no one other than the appreciating person. While gratitude is prompted by appreciation it goes beyond it for it is necessarily directed at another person, the source of that which is appreciated. This ‘other person’ is God. To be appreciative is an edifying habit. But, to be grateful is more fulfilling. Gratitude personalizes the gift we appreciate for it underscores the relationship between us and the giver. (The watch my father gave me is more than a time piece. It is a token of his esteem). So,  because it involves a personal relationship between the giver and the receiver gratitude is more rewarding than appreciation, a point we seem less and less to grasp.  If the observance of Thanksgiving itself begins to decline perhaps its anodyne substitute will be ‘Appreciation Day’.

The connection between appreciation and gratitude is somewhat similar to the link between the Two Great Commandments Jesus taught us. The first, of course, is to love God with all our being; the second to love our neighbors as ourselves.  As Christians we know that we cannot follow the first without following the second. But, in this world where the awareness of God has been so dimmed by secularism we more and more attempt to carry out the second while ignoring the first. Out of respect for the concepts we as a civilization have come to embrace as moral we pursue noble goals like justice, compassion et cetera. But we do so not for the love of God or our personal relationship with him. We do it for the sake of doing what is right. Which is more personally rewarding: embracing a concept because it is right, or receiving the embrace of the Person who is the source of all that is right?

Matrimony offers a similar perspective. A vibrant marriage where out of mutual love each spouse generously nourishes the personhood of the other is a profoundly rewarding one. A loveless marriage where spouses limit their attentions to each other to the sparse requirements of the marital bond is a stultifying one.

“For the love of God”. I wonder if someday this expression will regain its currency. Perhaps in another language where the word ‘Christian’ will not be written in lower case and will mean more than ‘moral’.