Starting this Sunday at South Side we begin an exciting new sermon series entitled “Thanks & Giving.” As we move through the month of November we begin to prepare for a season of celebration with our family and friends. In November we will gather around a table for Thanksgiving and hopefully reflect and give thanks to God for all the blessings he has given us. As believers we should live a life of thankfulness daily for the salvation we have been given through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Please understand that thanksgiving is a deeply theological act when understood. As a matter of fact, thankfulness is an expression of what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world we experience.
I’ve always wondered “how do atheists observe Thanksgiving?” I can easily understand that an atheist or agnostic would think of fellow human beings and feel led to express thankfulness and gratitude to all those who, both directly and indirectly, have contributed to their lives. However, what about the blessings that cannot be accredited to a human influence? Those are both more numerous and more significant, ranging from the universe we experience to the gift of life itself. Can one really be thankful without being thankful to someone? It makes no sense to express thankfulness to a purely naturalistic reality. Daniel Dennett, one of the foremost figures among the “New Atheists,” describes human life as “an ultimately transient twig on the copiously arborescent tree of life.” Dennett is a clear-headed evolutionist who takes the theory of evolution to its ultimate conclusion—human life is merely an accident, though a very happy accident for us. Within that worldview, how does thankfulness work?
The Apostle Paul points to a central insight about thankfulness when he instructs the Christians in Rome about the reality and consequences of unbelief. After making clear that God has revealed himself to all humanity through the created order, Paul asserts that we are all without excuse when it comes to our responsibility to know and worship the Creator. Paul wrote: For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. (Rom. 1:20-22)
This remarkable passage has at its center an indication of thanklessness. They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Paul wants us to understand that the refusal to honor God and give thanks is a raw form of sin. Theologians have long debated the foundational sin—and answers have ranged from lust to pride. Nevertheless, it would seem that being unthankful, refusing to recognize God as the source of all good things, is very close to the essence of the heart of sin. What explains the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden? A lack of proper thankfulness was at the core of their sin. God gave the first man and woman unspeakable riches and abundance, but did not grant them the fruit of one tree. True thankfulness would have made them avoid that fruit at all costs, and to obey the request. Taken further, this first sin was also a lack of thankfulness in that the decision to eat the forbidden fruit indicated a lack of thankfulness that took the form of an assertion that we creatures—not the Creator—know what is best for us and intend the best for us.
They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Clearly, honoring God as God leads us naturally into thankfulness. To honor Him as God is to honor His limitless love, His care, His provision, and uncountable gifts. To fail to give thanks is to fail to honor God—and this is the biblical description of a fallen and sinful world. We are a thankless lot. Sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God know a thankfulness that exceeds any human thankfulness. How do we express thankfulness for the provision the Father has made for us in Christ, the riches that are made ours in Him, the unspeakable gift of the surpassing grace of God? As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.”(2 Cor. 9:15) We need to think deeply, widely, carefully, and faithfully about the countless reasons for our thankfulness to God.
A lack of thankfulness to God is a clear sign of a basic godlessness. Millions of Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving with little consciousness of this truth. Their impulse to express gratitude is a sign of their spiritual need that can be met only in Christ. So remember that giving thanks is one of the most explicitly theological acts any human can contemplate. O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting (1 Chron. 16:34) Thanks & Giving go together. They are the brothers and sisters of thanksgiving. This month at South Side we will unpack our three-week series as we discover the power of thanksgiving. We have an incredible children’s program, and a wonderful nursery. Be sure to come early and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee and a snack at “Café Connect.” Worship begins at 10:45, and we hope to see you there!
South Side Church of Christ