Recently, I conducted a brief study of thanksgiving in the Bible. Since there is some dispute about the location of the first official Thanksgiving on American soil, I thought perhaps I could help reduce hostilities by finding proof of an ancient Thanksgiving service recorded in scripture.
I did, indeed discover some good candidates, not the least of which were Miriam’s song and dance by the Red Sea and the Last Supper. However, I must report the Bible actually begins with the sinful suppression of thanksgiving, not its celebration.
The killing thanksgiving story starts in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were enjoying paradise. Their only restriction was that they were not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. Satan appeared and convinced them they had every reason to be ungrateful. True, they had everything they could possibly want, but the Deceiver convinced them God was holding out. It wasn’t enough to live in perfect harmony with one another and all creation. They wanted the fruit. They wanted to be as wise as God. How could they be grateful when there was something they couldn’t have?
You may know the rest of the story in the garden. Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, ate the fruit and fell from grace. They killed thanksgiving.
Next came the first offspring, Cain and Abel. In the course of showing gratitude to God through personal sacrifices, Abel was singled out and praised for the superiority of his gift. Cain became enraged, rose up against Abel in a field and murdered him. Instead of being grateful for a brother with whom he could share his life, Cain became focused on what he was missing – God’s affirmation. So, he killed thanksgiving.
I see an important truth in these early events in human history. Thanksgiving grows out of an appreciation for what we have. Ingratitude is a product of focusing on what we don’t have.
If you doubt this truth, consider children who always get what they want, but continue to disrespect and dishonor those who sacrifice for their well-being. The list includes parents, teachers and basically anyone else who gives to them, including their peers.
Consider citizens who take the work of law enforcement personnel for granted. These caring servants protect us from harm while we are sleeping peacefully in our beds at night. But we test them by breaking the law, call them derogatory names and assume the worst when they are accused of wrongdoing.
The point of Thanksgiving Day is to express gratitude for our blessings. Most people try to be on their best behavior to demonstrate they understand what the celebration is for. This requires more patience on the road and at the grocery. It also means we try to love Aunt Ruby, even when she insists everyone try one of her raw oysters. And when she brings a present for one of your siblings because he is her favorite. Just saying.
If we can hold on for one day, we can go back to being ungrateful the day after. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season!
The fact is, Thanksgiving Day, and the gratitude that goes with it, is often just a worn-out theology which we no longer believe. We may not really feel blessed, but we will show thanks one day a year for appearances’ sake.
With a week to prepare, I want to encourage you to examine your heart. Don’t just work on your list of things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Consider how you can possess a spirit of gratitude every day of the year. If you don’t think this is possible, perhaps you need some careful self-examination as you consider how you view God’s blessings.
To help us all in this regard, we should remember everything we have is a gift from God. Nothing we have came into existence without God’s creative genius. The materials out of which we build our possessions and the intellect to fashion them for our purposes are His.
Where is your focus today? Are you envious of the things you don’t have or thankful for your blessings?
The answer to this question will greatly impact the quality of your Thanksgiving celebration.
Don’t play Thanksgiving.
“As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Col. 2:6-7)