Thanksgiving? The President pardons a turkey. The Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions are always two NFL teams with a game. Celebrities recite the people and events for which they are thankful. But are these famous people truly thankful, or just listing what they are presently happy about? The reality of saying thank you implies that we owe thanks to someone because they have done something for us. So, who are we thankful to? It is good to list people and things we are grateful for. That practice, done regularly, would do well for our present selfish society. But logically, who is it that we owe our gratitude to for providing those blessings we hold dear, and does it matter? Does the divine have anything to do with this?
What of the atheist who does not believe in God or others who live with a domesticated theology of the divine? If they are correct, it seems like celebrating Thanksgiving Day is merely going through a meaningless societal ritual that doesn’t mean anything beyond pleasantries and enjoyable feelings. Several years ago, though, I came to realize the profound theological, emotional, and practical necessity of giving thanks to God. When we do not thank God, it leads to our demise. The truth is that every good and perfect gift, even the air we breathe, comes from God.
In considering humanity’s downfall, the process begins not with some sudden act of belligerent violence but with the simple rebellious choice to ignore God and what He has done for us. The Apostle Paul notes in Romans, “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The text goes on, picking up speed, with cycles of people rejecting God, God letting them have their way, and then their downward spiral, finally arriving at a place where their thinking loses reason.
We see this dark reality played out in other places. As Paul described the sins of the latter days, couched in the middle of such things as abuse and slander, he lists being “ungrateful.” In essence, refusing to honor and thank God is simply the first domino to fall in our rejection of him, at which time, God gives us over to our rebellious heart one step at a time until we are so foreign to his excellent thinking that we are unable even to reason correctly.
Therefore, living with an attitude of thankfulness is not only nice but necessary. The history of the sacred text is replete with exhortations and illustrations of thanksgiving. The Psalms declares this, and in the epistles, we find such illustrations as Paul noting that prayers and petitions are to be brought before God “with thanksgiving.” It is so easy, even for me, to constantly approach God’s throne of power and grace with my petition list while forgetting all He has done.
Yes, thanksgiving is huge, and I am constantly pressing myself and our church staff to list those praises. I continuously try to remember to model this in my family and with friends. What are we thankful for? You fill in the blanks. Who are we grateful to? That is, to God, who even gives us air to breathe today. We often think of the pilgrims on their first Thanksgiving Day celebration after their harsh winter in the new world. This year, I have been drawn to President Lincoln’s proclamation of the first National Thanksgiving Day celebration, which was declared during the Civil War. Thanksgiving during a war?
But that is what Lincoln did, and the transcript makes beautiful sense. His proclamation is masterfully crafted and almost contains elements of true prayer. Lincoln acknowledges the privation and pain of the Civil War. The President also admitted the sin of the nation, which may be one of the clear causes of the war. He then, however, announces the blessings on the land, the peace with other nations, and the continuance of industry despite the carnage of the hostile conflict with the southern states. Lincoln then proceeds to adore the divine by ultimately pointing the praise to God from whom the blessings have come. In the middle of the official proclamation, he testifies that; “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
As a nation, this is what America needs today. More importantly, that is what each individual heart needs. We must ascertain not only what the blessings are but who the author of those blessings is, and we must return thanks and praise to the one who has bestowed those blessings on us.
So be thankful today, my friend, and be grateful to the one who loves you more than you can possibly imagine.
Where will you start? What will you thank God for today?