One of the benefits of being in Detroit is our proximity to Canada (you can get to Canada from our seminary in about 20 minutes). That allows Canadians to attend our seminary more easily (and allows us easier access to Canadian delicacies like poutine!) Today is Canadian Thanksgiving, so in honor of our Canadian neighbors, I want to consider why we give thanks.
We often give thanks to our friends and family, our heroes, our country, and/or God. Why do we give thanks? At least one reason is because we recognize the intentional efforts others have made so that we may benefit from their work. We are thankful to family who tirelessly worked to care and provide for us, to friends who support us in good times and bad, to people who sacrifice themselves so that we may enjoy freedoms and pleasures, and to institutions that provide opportunities for human well-being.
In Romans 1:21, Paul includes an interesting phrase when describing those who have rejected the knowledge of God. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Why would Paul highlight their ingratitude? Our failure to glorify God is significant because God is the most glorious of beings. His very existence demands that we give Him glory, and our failure to view Him as the God that He is lies at the heart of our sinful rebellion against Him.
But why is our failure to give thanks significant? Just like God is the only being who rightly deserves our worship, God is also the only being who fully deserves our gratitude. Everything in this world for which we give thanks ultimately comes from Him. He provides “every good and perfect gift” (Jas 1:17). It is God who “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).
The necessity of giving thanks to God flows from His work as creator. Ps 95:2-7 highlights this connection between God’s work of creation and our thanksgiving to Him.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
One of the more tragic consequences of our society’s rejection of God is our inability to truly appreciate God’s creation and, by extension, the creative work of those made in Him image. The splendor of a sunset, the majesty of oceans and rainforest, the mystery of life, the beauty of love, the intricacies of excellent music, the brilliance of worthy works of art, and the contemplation of great literature are largely ignored and forsaken in our day. After all, if there is no God, then beauty, love, creativity, and design are all myths.
Charles Darwin illustrates how our rejection of God leads to an inability to appreciate beauty.
Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge , and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry; I have tried lately to read Shakespeare , and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. . . . I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. (Francis Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, New York: Appleton and Company, 1896, p. 81).
Most people still appreciate better than they believe. Though they affirm naturalism, they still respond to the grandeur of the world as if it truly were beautiful. They believe they are observing something that is objectively splendid and are not just experiencing a physiological response that enhances survival. They still give thanks to their parents for loving and caring for them rather than thinking that their parents were merely acting the way their DNA programmed them in order to help secure the survival of their genes. They stand in awe in front of a lush countryside without believing they only find it appealing because they would be more likely to find food there. They know God, even as they suppress that knowledge. And thus, they still give thanks—just not to the God who made them.
How much more, then, should we who truly know this God give thanks to Him for all the things we enjoy!