When I was younger, I mistakenly thought it was ironic that we celebrated Labor Day by taking a day off from work. But when it comes to another holiday, Thanksgiving, there’s actual irony to consider. Plenty of people aren’t giving thanks for this holiday. Do a quick Google search on “Thanksgiving” and you’ll find naysayers’ complaints that range from serious concerns to personal preferences. People express legitimate concerns about the ethical treatment of Native Americans by America’s early European settlers and lesser concerns about the unhealthy eating habits often associated with the holiday. Still others just dislike turkey or cranberry sauce.
Even perhaps for the majority, me included, who enjoy the holiday as a day of rest, good food, and time with family, there’s another irony at the table. On this day, there’s a public acceptance of giving thanks. The rest of the year you might hear encouragements to “pay it forward” or “give back,” but at the end of November, we make time for gratitude. Each year, people—Christian and non-Christian—sit around tables and take time to answer the question “What are you thankful for?” People from religious and secular backgrounds express their thankfulness for family, for health, for food, for jobs, for time to enjoy life together. But here’s the irony: to whom are they thankful?
Who Gets the Thanks?
When I give my 12-year-old a birthday present, he (hopefully!) replies with some degree of gratitude: “Thanks, Dad! This is exactly what I wanted.” He receives the gift and thanks the one who gave the gift. He’s thankful.
So when you say you’re thankful for family—whom are you thanking? Your family members? Perhaps. What about expressing thankfulness for your health? Are you thanking medical professionals? Maybe. When we’re thankful for life and well-being, to whom are we directing our gratitude? Ourselves? Or God?
When we’re thankful for life and well-being, to whom are we directing our gratitude? Ourselves? Or God?
Saying thanks to other humans never goes far enough. For the Christian, we realize Scripture teaches that God is the Creator of all things.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Isa. 40:28)
He made families; they’re his idea. And he placed you in your family.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. (Eph. 3:14–15)
God settles the solitary in a home. (Ps. 68:6)
He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD! (Ps. 113:9)
God created all things, including tastebuds as well as food, to be relished and enjoyed. He created fruit, vegetables, and meats, and he gave humans the ability and know-how to cultivate these into a smorgasbord of delicious foods.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth. (Ps. 104:14)
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. (1 Tim. 4:4)
Therefore, when non-Christians give thanks for all God has made, it’s the essence of irony. They enjoy his gifts and express thanks but deny the Giver.
When non-Christians give thanks for all God has made, it’s the essence of irony. They enjoy his gifts and express thanks but deny the Giver.
Yet it’s no surprise. For this is what the apostle Paul said would happen. It’s how he describes unbelievers. They don’t acknowledge (honor) God—that he exists. And they don’t recognize him—that he’s the Source of all they enjoy (give thanks). “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” (Rom. 1:21).
Recognize the Giver Through the Gifts
For Christians, the irony is that we know the Source of all things, but we often fail to see the connection between the gift and the Giver. Of course, our mealtime prayers may verbalize thanks to God, but do we really consider, throughout the day, that he’s the Giver of all good things? Do we see God in what he has made?
This kind of thankfulness is an issue of seeing with the eyes of the heart. We don’t merely see what God created, we see through what he’s created. Christians ought to pray with English poet and pastor George Herbert who wrote of this in his poem The Elixir (1633):
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee. . . .
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
Thanksgiving means looking at everything like you would look at a window. You can look at it or, better yet, you can look through it. Think of something you’re thankful for. Envision it in your mind. Now look through it.
God made everything to point to him, to direct our eyes heavenward. On Thanksgiving Day and every other day, we should train the eyes of our heart to see through all the gifts we enjoy, all the way to the Giver. And give him thanks.