Friday, April 13, 2012

A Proper Understanding of Giving Informs and Empowers Our Forgiving

{If you don't read this post, PLEASE, at the least, watch the video embedded below of Forgiveness.  There you will see how giving and forgiving work together.}

When we give, it's Christ who gives. As we think about ourselves as givers, there's something to rejoice about.  We are instruments in God's hand, and we give to delight others and to alleviate their needs.  But there's nothing to be proud of. God is doing the giving, and it is God, not us, who deserves honor and gratitude.
Consider the apostle Paul's view of gratitude....  'Your generosity,' he wrote, 'will produce thanksgiving to God through us'; the gift 'not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God' (2 Corinthians 9:11-13).  The Corinthians do the giving, but God gets the thanks!  Does that make sense?  Only if it's true that when the Corinthians give, it's God who gives.

From here Miroslav Volf comments on the letter to the Philippians which is "one long thank-you note" without any thanks directed to the Philippians.  "Most likely he doesn't thank them directly because he believes that he hasn't received gifts from them but through them.  The giver is God.  They are the channels."

So, "the Philippians received indirect thanks from the Apostle: In a letter addressed to them, he thanked God for them as supporters of his ministry (Philippians 1:3-11).  And this is exactly as it should be - provided that it's God who gives when the Philippians give."

At this point, Volf draws assistance from Seneca's work On Benefits: "Modest givers forget that they have given; indeed, they forget while they are giving, claims Seneca. Hence they resist the recipients' gratitude.  Grateful receivers, on the other hand, never forget what they've received.  Ingratitude is their worst vice."

The question now is, Can this work?  How do givers ignore, or better forget, the response of gratitude; and how do receivers consistently remember to express gratitude?  Volf summarizes Seneca's solution: 

"It's God who gives through human givers; human givers can forget their own giving.  It's from God that recipients receive; recipients can remember the gift and give thanks to God.  The vice of the giver's pride is banished, but the virtue of the recipient's gratitude retained.  Givers are not superior to recipients on account of giving, and recipients are not diminished on account of receiving.  Both are God's creatures, and both are recipients of God's gifts, even if one receives to pass on and the other receives to enjoy."

Finally, the question of dealing with ingratitude must be addressed.  Volf phrases the question like this: "How can we continue to give when the cold winds of ingratitude blow in the face of our giving?"

Volf's answer here truly humbled me because I have done more than my fair share of chafing over ingratitude!  Volf concludes:

It will not help much if we simply remind ourselves: God gives to the ungrateful, and so should we.  But it will help if we remember that it's God who gives when we give.  For then we need to deflect gratitude that comes to us anyway.  We are not its proper addressees.  God is.  And if we are convinced that gratitude doesn't properly belong to us, then ingratitude doesn't touch us.  We are not disrespected by ingratitude; our pride is not injured.  The ingratitude of recipients wrongs not us but the gift-giving God - the God whose goodness "gladly loses its good deed on the unthankful" [quoting Luther].  And so we too continue to give, even to the ungrateful.

I have posted a handful of quotes from this book on the topic of giving via Twitter: see here.