''Winging It' with Stan Smith
Originally posted on 11/27/2019
Most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Okay, they recognize it. They indulge it. It isn't only believers buying turkeys and gathering to give thanks. Even unbelievers -- actual atheists, even -- will recognize the day as a "day of thanks" and even admit to being thankful for something, even if it's just the meal. Or the football. Here's the thing. Amidst all the revelry and gluttony and even a momentary "I'm thankful for ...", how often do we/they think about to whom we're thankful.You see, an atheist will say, "I'm thankful for ..." but won't say, "I'm thankful to God for ..." because, after all, the atheist believes in no such being. So we get that he or she is grateful in some sense for some gift, but gives no reference to the giver. And, unfortunately, many of us have that tendency even as believers. We vaguely are grateful, but are not actually clearly grateful to God. We're just "grateful" in the sense that we're "happy to have" whatever that is and not in the sense that it is a gift. Gratitude, actually, doesn't come easily to us humans. Gratitude is being thankful for a benefit received. If we are due that benefit -- if it is justly ours to begin with -- then we have no room to be grateful. And we have an overbearing sense of entitlement as sinful human beings. You'd think gratitude would come easy, but look how hard we work on our kids from a very young age teaching them to be grateful. "Tell Gramma thank you." Because they wouldn't naturally do it. It is not innate. And it's worse when it comes to God. In Romans Paul starts his exposition of the Gospel -- the good news -- with the bad news (Romans 1:18-3:20). He starts by declaring that God's wrath is revealed "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). He specifies that God's attributes are revealed through creation (Romans 1:20), but that hasn't worked for sinful man. 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) The first error is a failure to honor or give thanks to God. That's the beginning of the huge spiral into all manner of evil. Our first error is a lack of gratitude. So it might seem contradictory that we have a nationwide celebration of giving thanks. If we're honest, however, we're not giving thanks to God. We're barely even giving Him a nod. We're just ... "thankful" without reference to the One to whom we're supposed to be thankful. Many refer to the day as "Turkey Day" because of the traditional turkey dinner. I think it is probably a more accurate depiction of the day to most of us. We're happy to have things; we're just not grateful to the Giver. Pass the turkey. So when Paul says, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18), we're somewhat baffled. "Really? In all circumstances? Is that even reasonable?" It's not if you aren't even willing to thank Him on a day set aside to do so for the good things you're enjoying. It is if you know God. If you know God, there is a lot to be grateful for, pleasant or unpleasant, plenty or poor, happy or sad, positive or negative. If you're having trouble thanking God in the pleasant experiences of Thanksgiving Day, you'll have trouble thanking Him in every circumstance. And that's your loss. Because God is good all the time.