Thanks be to God
Remember to be thankful for the right things and to the true Giver of those things
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Our American Thanksgiving has roots both old and recent. The first professional football game on Thanksgiving came in 1934, though an amateur contest took place in Philadelphia as early as 1869. Celebrating annually on the fourth Thursday of November originated during the Civil War by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln. However, Americans have held special days of thanks since our founding and even back into colonial days. The concept of feasting on various harvest-focused foods dates to America’s original Thanksgiving by the Plymouth settlement in 1621.
Today’s focus on food and football is indeed a merry and enjoyable pastime. Yet, the sheer regularity of it should not distract us from the day’s greater purpose. If not attentive, we can celebrate blindly. Even when we remember, our giving thanks can stray. We might fall into a generic gratitude regarding for what we are thankful, unspecific, and undiscerning. At the same time, we can be opaque in to whom we are thankful. Some have jokingly asked if we should rename the fourth Thursday in November, “The Feast of the Intransitive Verb.”
This Thanksgiving, give thanks—but don’t give thanks blindly.
First, let us not be blind that it is to God we are thankful. For thanks must have a subject: We are thankful to someone. At Thanksgiving, we should remind ourselves that God is the source of all good in the world, including our own lives. In the doxology, we sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” James’ epistle declares that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Otherwise, we risk our thanks making an idol of others or of ourselves. We should take time to thank others—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers—for the goods which they give. But we must never forget God as the ultimate source, even through the means of fellow human beings. If we make ourselves the subject of thanks, which can happen in subtle ways, we risk gratitude morphing into pride. When Paul asked what we have that we did not receive, he continues, “But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” What should be humble gratitude then becomes self-righteous presumption.
Second, let us not be theologically blind regarding for what we give thanks. Giving thanks presumes that the objects for which we express gratitude are good and right. This point necessarily extends from the previous one. If God is perfectly and infinitely good, He cannot be the source of evil. Thus, for what we thank Him communicates what we think is beneficial, just, and holy.
We should not give thanks, therefore, for sin. Isaiah declares, “Woe to those who call evil good” (Isaiah 5:20). Significant portions of our society, including elements within the American church, now call evil good. They therefore express thanks to God for abortion and for distorted views of sexuality and of sex. The so-called “prosperity gospel” turns thankfulness for God’s provision into an adoration of greed. In many of these instances, persons end up giving thanks not for divine blessings, but for godly punishments.
Instead, we should give thanks for the good God bestows. We should remain thankful for the extent of religious liberty we still have in this country. We certainly face cultural winds turned against us. But we confront nothing like the violence and persecution that threatens our brothers and sisters in China or Nigeria. Despite certain economic challenges, we remain economically prosperous in a way that more than answers our petition in the Lord’s Prayer to “give us this day our daily bread.”
Third, we should not be blind this Thanksgiving to hope. We live in difficult times for God’s Church. We not only face the moral decay previously discussed. Underneath it lays an increasing secularization among our fellow citizens, culture, and politics. Churches tend to be closing more than opening, struggling more than thriving. The gospel faces more overt opposition in America than at any time in our memory. Thus, our gratitude can tend to take the form of lament. We are thankful for what God did but with the thought that those blessings might have ceased.
We cannot know fully God’s future plans for America as a country. But we do know His plans for His people. The story of the book of Revelation is that Jesus wins and we do as well through Him. God will wipe away every tear, He will rectify every wrong, He will vindicate the righteous. Here hope is wed to thanks. For our hope in the future is as sure as if it were already past. God is both faithful and sovereign. He will bring it to pass.
This Thanksgiving, let us feast. Let us watch football. And let us give thanks with our eyes open, not blind. The LORD is good and the source of all good. He is our sure hope now and forever. This year as in every year, thanks be to God.
These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.