Imagine you are sitting in a nice restaurant. It doesn’t matter who is with you if anyone. You have just finished your three-course meal which involved pan-seared brussel sprouts with bacon bits; a main course of grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and vegetables; and a dessert of apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream. That was me imagining myself there. When the server comes to pick up your plates, he or she sets down the bill and says, “Someone paid for your meal in full already, have a nice evening.” What comes to your mind immediately? You will probably insist that the server tell you who did it. If that’s the case, why would you insist that the server tell you who paid for your meal? It is more than likely because you feel compelled to express gratitude in thanking the person who paid for your nice dinner.
This is, of course, is a hypothetical situation, but we know this kind of thing happens all the time. It’s happened to me multiple times. I know that some might respond differently, but I could safely assume that most would respond the way I described above. I use this example to show the natural impulse in humans to be thankful. Not only do humans have a natural impulse to be thankful, but we have a desire to know what the object is to which our gratitude should be directed. The truth of the matter is that we cannot express gratitude and thankfulness unless there is someone that can receive it.
“there seems to be something innate in humans that gives us the sense that we are undeserving, and that there is a mind and heart behind the things that are given to us that we don’t deserve.”
I don’t want to deduce it down to semantics, but there’s a need to see the difference between being thankful for something and being thankful to someone. In keeping with tradition, there will be many families who go around the table and have each person state what they are thankful for. You can imagine the things that people will express thanks for: job, house, family, etc. If these are things to be thankful for, to whom should the thanks be given? Who can I give thanks to for these things that I do not deserve?
The main thrust of giving thanks comes from the idea in the last question. The Greek word for “thanksgiving” (eucharistia) contains the word for “grace” (charis). The most simplistic definition of grace is to get something that you don’t deserve. When we talk about giving thanks and getting what we don’t deserve, there is an element of being. What I mean by this is that there is a heart and mind behind the granting of such things that we don’t deserve. There’s also a moral thread that we need to be aware of in realizing that we are undeserving. If we felt like we truly deserve what we have, there’s really no sense in being thankful for it. Have you ever met a child are even adult that felt entitled to something? Are they very thankful?
From this, there seems to be something innate in humans that gives us the sense that we are undeserving, and that there is a mind and heart behind the things that are given to us that we don’t deserve. Okay, I’ll stop dancing around it. The reason why we have a sense of being undeserving is because we are. And the mind and heart behind that which is given to us is God. Even those who don’t believe in God or utterly reject him are still beneficiaries of his common grace. What’s interesting is that many people like this will gladly celebrate Thanksgiving without thinking about what they are actually doing.
What does it look like for them to take their worldview to its logical conclusion? I just read an article this morning from Forbes by Ethan Siegel called Be Thankful For the Universe That Created You. In the article, Siegel works his way through all of the things that we should be thankful for that make our existence possible. It is hard to ignore the tone of the article that clearly suggests that it is quite a miracle that we exist at all. The first sentence of the article says, “We all have a lot to be thankful for, but the biggest one we all have in common is that we all exist.” The reason why Siegel says this is because the scenario that he puts forth for our existence suggests that we really shouldn’t exist under it. And yet, here we are, we exist. But, why should we even be thankful we exist? Why is existence a good thing? That’s a topic for another post, but Siegel says we should be thankful for the various things in the universe that our existence is dependent upon, including gravitational forces, nuclear fusion, and molecular clouds. The last sentence of the article says, “Be thankful for the Universe that created you; it’s the one story we all have in common.” Well, I am thankful for the universe and its fine-tuning, but to whom should I be thankful for it? If there is no mind or heart behind my existence, why should I be thankful, especially if my existence is dependent upon randomness and chance?
The way I see it is that I shouldn’t exist, nor do I deserve to exist, and I should be thankful to the One that is the source of my existence. This is the only scenario that being thankful makes sense in. I also realize that I don’t deserve all that I have and that I should be thankful to the One that has granted to me all that I have. This is the only scenario that being thankful today makes sense in. Today means not only am I thankful for the common grace I have received, but also the grace I have received through Christ.
As you are sitting around the table today, think about the object of your gratitude. Giving thanks only makes sense when there is a heart and mind that has granted to you that which you are thankful for. Just like in the example I used in the first paragraph, you wouldn’t ask, “what paid for my meal?” you would ask, “who paid for my meal?” There is always a heart and mind behind a situation like this, and we shouldn’t think it’s any different when we offer thanks for what we have on a day like today. The heart and mind behind all we have is that of a good God who is gracious enough to even allow those who reject and despise him to benefit from his grace. And if God isn’t the object of your gratitude, then I would ask you to ponder who is the object of your gratitude.
We all know that it is important to make sure that people who deserve it are thanked, and that the gratitude goes to the right person. It’s easy to remember how it feels when we aren’t thanked or when someone else gets the gratitude for something we did. Is there anything that gets us more worked up than that? This is why I call to attention the need to be aware of the fact that gratitude, especially today, must be given and that it really matters who gets that gratitude. Lastly, if you are having trouble thinking of something to be thankful for, let me end with a quote from Ethan Siegel, “We all have a lot to be thankful for, but the biggest one we all have in common is that we all exist.”