Psychologists tell us that our minds find it difficult to cope with the idea of bad things happening to good people. Our minds, evidently, struggle until they can find a reason why that person, who seemed to be good, actually deserved what they got. The explanation makes it easier for us to accept. So, it is quite common for us, for the Press, for jurors, for the victims themselves, to believe that rape is the fault of the woman involved. The Christian Church has acted as though this was true for years. Unmarried, pregnant women were locked away as mentally defective and stripped of any civic rights. When disasters strike overseas, we find all sorts of reasons why this could have been avoided if the foreigners had lived just a little more like us.
If disasters, whether personal or national, happen without the fault of the victims, perhaps we should all be a bit more grateful when they don’t. In the Christian Church, we thank God; Muslims say Al-hamdu lil-lāh – thanks be to Allah. Actually, someone who practices gratitude is quite a different person who takes good fortune for granted. Gratitude is one of the characteristics that make people nice to know. The habit of gratitude requires practice, and part of that practice is to acquire a working knowledge of the bad luck that people do suffer, we call this empathy. Unless we can envisage the worst, we are unlikely to appreciate the benefit of its absence.
It used to be common in Christian households, to say Grace before meals; gratiarum actio, “act of thanks” in ecclesiastical Latin. In Scotland: “Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit”. Muslims have their own version, the Du’a. Many Christians still make a personal act of thanks for every meal, commonly in the form of thanking the cook. Gratitude for food is a good prophylactic against food waste. One third of all the food we grow is thrown away, much into landfill. Celebrity cooking programs encourage this by ending up with small plates of prepared food from a mountain of ingredients.
Someone who is constantly thanking God for good fortune is also likely to thank you or me for quite ordinary courtesies. In many ways, it does not matter too much whom we thank, it is the act of gratitude that conveys peace and happiness.
People unprepared for hardship frequently become angry when misfortune comes calling. Again, someone angry with God tends to be angry by default. Many people who exhibit anger are really expressing a lack of confidence in themselves; a feeling of inadequacy. You may have met someone who is habitually angry. The agony columns are frequented by women who don’t understand how they can please a husband who is perpetually angry rather than grateful
So, in pursuit of Jesus-Shaped living, we should train ourselves in gratitude; it will make us happier, it will make those around us happier, it will more truly reflect our precarious place on this planet. Thank God for gratitude!