Dostoyevsky, the renowned 19th century Russian novelist, thought he would die thirty-two years before he actually did. He had been sentenced to death due to his association with a socialist group. On December of 1849 he was brought out to St. Petersburg’s Semyonovsky Platz to be killed. However, to his absolute amazement, he was granted a last-minute amnesty. Dostoevsky later described his reaction that day: ‘I walked up and down my cell in the Alekseevsky Ravelin and sang the whole time, sang at the top of my voice, so happy was I at being given back my life.’
Most of us will never face such a dramatic incident. However, I believe all of us have experienced moments in life that cause us to be overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for existence, haven’t we?
I live those moments when I witness the sunset in Granada; Bill Clinton has actually described it as the most beautiful in the world (I promise I don’t work for the city’s tourist office!). From home I can watch the sun as it hides itself behind the mountains; the blueness of the sky gradually giving room to tones of red, up to the point where the sun completely departs until the next morning. I’ve found myself absorbed by such a view (not that I frequently stare at the sunset for thirty minutes doing nothing – a few seconds are usually enough). A deep breath and a smile are not the only effects. A sense of gratitude for simply being alive accompanies such moments as well.
Os Guiness has portrayed it well: “Have you ever felt that gratitude for existence? A wonder to be alive when wiggling your toes in the sand, hearing the breeze in the trees, or seeing a dewdrop on a rose? Has it ever struck you that no natural things create or sustain themselves? All of the them, including you and me and the entire universe, owe their existence to something else. But to what or whom?” Os Guiness’ question is profoundly significant.
The Bible instructs humanity to recognize that before anything there has always been someone. Before a what, there has always been a who. As the author of all creation, the Bible insists, God is the only legitimate object of our gratitude for existence.
It’s true that God does not need our appreciation. It certainly does not inflate his ego or help us to win extra points in our relationship with the divine. Unique moments that cause us to be grateful for existence are a gift from their architect. I wonder, however, if only the recognition of who has created those moments can make them truly complete for us. I think so.