When one thinks of the primary sins in our world today, we tend to think big, pointing to sins like murder, abuse, sexual sins, and possibly blasphemy or idolatry. Very few of us, I think, would leap up to suggest that the sin of ingratitude should supplant these vices as more primary.
The Apostle Paul, however, is deeply concerned about the sin of ingratitude. Not only does it earn a spot on one of Paul’s famous “sin lists” (2 Tim 3:2), but it also stands in Romans 1:21 as the capital crime in the downward spiral of depravity that has marked the human condition from its inception: “They did not give thanks to him.”
We should not be surprised by this. Since the greatest commandment is to love God supremely (Matt 22:37–38), then the foremost sin is failing to observe the great commandment and preferring instead gods of our own choosing (so Rom 1:21ff). Before man can construct alternative gods and alternative ethical systems, he must first deconstruct the God that is unavoidably plain to him; before the floodgates of vice can open, Paul says, one must first be guilty of the more primary sin of ingratitude. It is for this reason that ingratitude takes its ignoble place in Scripture as the dark vestibule not only to idolatry but to all that is evil.
And so it is eminently appropriate that we set aside a day for thanksgiving each November. It is a day set aside to curb vice by fulfilling the first and greatest commandment. Ebenezer Scrooge may have learned how to “keep Christmas well” (whatever Dickens may have meant by that), but perhaps the more primary virtue is learning to keep Thanksgiving well.