The apostle Paul warned of terrible, stressful times to come before Christ’s return:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:1-2, emphasis added throughout). His list of destructive end-time attitudes goes on, but let’s focus on “unthankful.”
Why is ingratitude a symptom of a sick and self-destructive society? Why is it growing, and how does it harm us, while gratitude helps us?
Why is ingratitude increasing in this secular, humanistic society? Paul wrote an insightful analysis of people who ignore the evidence of our Creator:
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:20-21).
People who do not acknowledge God are obviously not going to be thankful to Him. Thoughts that do not take into account the ultimate reality of the existence and plan of God are vain thoughts.
If you think you are just an animal, yet paradoxically think you are the master of your own destiny, your thoughts will reach no further than your life span (Psalm 146:4). They will be fleeting and futile, and you will be blind to the spiritual realities that last for eternity.
An ancient case study
We can see this in the life of King Nebuchadnezzar.
God had warned the king about the results of the prideful path he was on. “They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times [years] shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” (Daniel 4:25).
But Nebuchadnezzar did not heed the warning, and 12 months later he was again idolizing his own power and wealth. He said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (verse 30).
From that very hour the prophecy was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar became like a wild animal. He ate grass, and his nails grew like bird claws. This poetic justice eventually transformed his haughty pride to praise.
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (verse 37).
Being unthankful belies an underlying rejection of God. If we don’t recognize what He has done for us, we put something else in His place.
Problems with ingratitude
Being unthankful belies an underlying rejection of God. If we don’t recognize what He has done for us, we put something else in His place. Not only does this demonstrate that we are disconnected from reality, but it generally means we are making a god out of ourselves.
If we ignore the blessings of God and the contributions of others, we create blind spots that keep us from seeing the whole picture. These blind spots can prevent us from perceiving the pitfalls in our path. It’s a law of the universe that pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).
Self-centeredness and ingratitude grate on the nerves of those around us, leading to lack of intimacy and to isolation. Unthankfulness can poison relationships and prevent new ones from forming.
Benefits of thanksgiving
On the other hand, gratitude has many benefits that are now being confirmed by science.
John Tierney summarized some of the recent research in an article in The New York Times:
“Cultivating an ‘attitude of gratitude’ has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others. … A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked. …
“Why does gratitude do so much good? ‘More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship,’ Dr. [Michael] McCullough says. ‘It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.’”
It’s the Golden Rule in action (Matthew 7:12). We all like to be appreciated, and gratitude acts as a lubricant in human relationships. It helps us make friends and strengthen friendships and family bonds. Being thankful to others pays off in making our own lives more pleasant and happy.
And thankfulness can help build our relationship with God as well. He is a loving Father, and He wants what is best for us. That includes wanting us to have the benefits of a positive outlook on life (Philippians 4:8) and a proper perspective on our blessings and challenges.
Freed from the blind spots and pitfalls of pride and ingratitude, we can see our future clearly based on the ultimate reality. God made us and has given us everything we have. Beyond that, He has a purpose for us that transcends the troubles of this age. He wants us to think like He does—to appreciate what is good and to give.
God owns everything and has given us everything we have. He even gave the life of His Son so that we can be forgiven of our sins! So what can we really give to Him? Our thanks!
“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). Read more in our article “Praise God.”