As a microcosm of Christian discipleship, Thanksgiving Day stands as a visual reminder of the important role gratitude plays in the Christian life. God’s people are meant to be thankful people—the kind of people that live shaped by and filled with unending gratitude to their Creator. Any expression of thankfulness must be directed toward an object, and God alone is worthy of ultimate thanks. Thus, Thanksgiving Day is, in its essence, an exclusively Christian holiday.
Thanksgiving Day is less of a problem for someone who believes in a Supreme Being, whether that be God, Allah, or any other Divine. It is more of a problem for those naturalists (as described by C.S. Lewis), agnostics, and atheists in particular. It is a problem for them because they don’t know exactly how to be deeply thankful, or who should receive their deep thankfulness. Dr. Mohler recently discussed this quandary on the Briefing, quoting a secularist who could refer to gratitude only as a “universal human emotion”. When thankfulness is reduced to mere emotion it is no longer real thankfulness, it is simply a shadow of thankfulness.
Naturalists can certainly express gratitude and thanks to people.There is a natural longing in the human heart to be thankful, but there is also a natural longing in the human heart to redirect thankfulness to that which is undeserving of our thanks. The Apostle Paul made it quite clear that the humanity refuses to express thankfulness to the Creator, in favor of expressing it to the creature instead. This idolatrous thankfulness is identified as part of the fundamental problem with the human heart, not just in this particular moment in history, but from the Fall in the Garden of Eden until now.
The problem is that thankfulness to the creature (human, animal, or inanimate object) doesn’t go deep enough. It can’t go deep enough. Even those who speak their gratitude past people and objects to the nebulous idea of “The Universe” don’t go deep enough. They are not deeply thankful when they express their gratitude to the creature because all creatures owe gratitude to their Creator; and just because someone suppresses knowledge of the Creator doesn’t make their gratitude to the creature any more real or honest.
When Christians experience the regeneration of the Spirit and find their position in Christ, they are called to lead thankful lives—lives that redound to the Creator’s love, wisdom, and power. This is the kind of thankfulness that gives people a big view of God, and it is the kind of thankfulness that guards the human heart from idolatry and sin. With this guard on our hearts, we can thank people rightly. We can thank people more deeply and more fully when we help them see in our expression of gratitude the One who has endowed them with life, with ability, and with dignity. So, let us thank God for people and how He gifts them. Let us thank God for our homes, our families, and our churches. Let us thank God for He is the source of every good gift.
Thanksgiving, then, is a holiday that enables us as enjoyers. It helps us remember that the gifts we enjoy have value that extends beyond aesthetic or utilitarian measurements—it has value because the God of the universe is a generous God who delights in giving good things to His children. May Christians throughout the nation point to God’s goodness in their conversation on this holiday, and may God give us grace and mercy to rejoice in thankfulness to Him as an orientation of life.