Thanks-giving is a by-product of a certain way of looking at life, a way of looking that has eyes to see the goodness of God and the goodness of God’s creation, coupled with the awareness that we are undeserving of such goodness.
This awareness of being “undeserving” is another way of saying that we are aware of who we are in relation to God, that we are a crooked, hand-drawn line in relation to God, our straight-edge ruler. The Bible tells us that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the God who loves us (Romans 3:23). In other words, it tells us we’re sinners. We don’t like that idea, but if we’re at all honest with ourselves or attentive to the bloodbath of human history or aware of the weekly horrors we read about or see on TV, we must admit it’s true. There’s a spiritual malignancy slowly devouring the human heart, for which there is no cure other than from God.
God’s cure, of course, is the Son whom He sent to us, whose unjust death became the miracle cure of our fatal illness. Through Christ, we see clearly the goodness of God, the goodness of the Creation God proclaimed as good, and the goodness of God’s gifts.
“OK,” you say. “But what does all this have to do with thanks-giving? How on earth does a sense of sin lead to the joy of gratitude?”
Being aware of who we are as sinners, albeit forgiven sinners through Christ, is an education in humility, whereby we know who God is and who we are in relation to God. Specifically, we come to understand that we are outsiders to God’s goodness, but that God has adopted us and made us participants in His goodness. From the perspective of humility, God’s goodness is a grandly big goodness indeed.
A sense of sin is the fertile soil in which humility grows, and, in turn, humility is the fertile soil in which joyful thanks-giving grows and in which worship grows.
Why is humility so important to thanks-giving? Because humility sees all goodness offered to it as a gift and blessing, something undeserved and unexpected.
The opposite of humility is a sense of entitlement, that, somehow, we deserve what we think should be “ours.” It’s the arrogance that demands its “rights” from the universe. It’s the self-centered perspective that sees God’s gifts without seeing the Giver of these gifts, so that they become disconnected, lifeless idols that we think we can pick and choose at our convenience.
Both a sense of entitlement and idolatry destroy our capacity to receive God’s gifts and even to recognize them as gifts. Instead of being drawn ever nearer to God and into God’s goodness through worshipful gratitude and praise, we end up alone, on the outside looking in, unable to experience life as God intended it to be lived. Humility is the recognition of being on the outside, and rejoicing that God through His Son has invited us in.
Gifts make glad both the giver of the gift and the gift’s recipient. It is a joy for the giver to give. It is a joy for the recipient to receive. For the recipient, it is a particular kind of joy, a grateful joy that recognizes God in His gifts and rejoices in them as well as in the Giver.
And so it is that the most unpopular of Christian doctrines is put into the service of joy and gratitude through the Gospel. The smaller we see ourselves to be, the larger God’s gifts appear. The more we own our own sinfulness, the more clearly we see the goodness and generosity of God.
For a sinner, the gift of forgiveness, acceptance, and love is an indescribable gift. So are all subsequent blessings and gifts. Paul the Apostle got it right:
“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
Blessings to you this Thanksgiving Season!