Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Few other cultures (if any) have such a day of prescribed annual gratitude. They don’t have a reason for gratitude— their world view doesn’t give them one. This is not just a problem, you understand, for other nations, it’s becoming a problem here for us here in America as well.
A dear lady in a store yesterday, sensing I am not from “around these parts,” asked, “Do you celebrate Turkey Day in Ireland?” With a glint in my eye, I said, “No, we Irish are a monstrously ungrateful people. But I love your distinctly American tradition, and I can’t wait to give thanks to God for all His many blessings… None of which I deserve.” Well she double took me so fast, I thought her head might just fall off her shoulders.
I am hearing this rebranding of “Thanksgiving” more and more. For many of course, it’s just a fun, quirky take on an old stodgy name. But I wonder if there might not just be more going on here than that? Could this be the same spirit that prefers Happy Holidays to Happy Christmas, that protests nativity scenes, carols, and public badges of religion? These increasingly strident voices say they only want a consistent secularism, but it sounds like a pretty resentful one to me. What’s there not to love about Thanksgiving? Can’t the secularist give sincere thanks for all his earthly benefactors? Of course he can, but he knows better than to stop there. The human spirit resists partial answers, we have an instinct, a need to trace things back to their terminus ad quem, their ultimate root. Deep down, we all know there should be a vertical component to all our gratitude. There really is a Giver behind every earthly gift, and our secular culture would rather ditch the name than beg that question.
This spirit reveals our culture’s real attitude towards God, and it is not friendly. It’s not just that we don’t give thanks, our real problem is that we won’t. America’s youth pastor, Bart Simpson, summed up this sentiment in his prayer of grace before meal, “Dear God, we paid for all this food ourselves, so thanks for nothing!” Humanity is, as OS Guinness likes to say, “that ungrateful biped.”
This monstrous attitude provokes God greatly, and lies as one of His two great summary charges against all unredeemed human culture, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21, ESV). God’s ordinary and proper response to such a spirit: Blazing fury forever (Romans 1:18).
This begs the question, are you grateful to God? Do you make a habit of thanksgiving? Not just on the fourth Thursday in November, but every day? I know many people outside the church who are always telling me, “How lucky they have been.” They thank their “lucky stars” for their health, their family, their good fortune in business, etc. Are you vocal about how good God has been to you? Do you thank God? I have to confess, all too often I treat this duty of gratitude the same way I treat my duty to pray, or to tell my wife how much I love her. I think to myself, no need to say the words, he/she already knows! But that’s a mistake.
I am reminded of that lovely scene in Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew when the children, on their way to the Garden to fetch the Apple of Life, suddenly realize they have brought no food with them,
““I am hungry,” said Digory. “Well, tuck in,” said Fledge (the flying horse), taking a big mouthful of grass. Then he raised his head, still chewing and with bits of grass sticking out on each side of his mouth like whiskers, and said, “Come on, you two. Don’t be shy. There’s plenty for us all.” “But we can’t eat grass,” said Digory. “H’m, h’m,” said Fledge, speaking with his mouth full. “Well—h’m—don’t know quite what you’ll do then. Very good grass too.” Polly and Digory stared at one another in dismay. “Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory. “I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge. “Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly. “I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
So when you get up this morning and begin the day, remember, God likes to be asked, and He also likes to be thanked. Enjoy your turkey with Thanksgiving!