“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:20-21, NIV)
This passage, including the verses that follow, suggests that there are contrasting ways of reacting to the beauty and goodness of God’s creation: we either praise and give thanks to the Creator, or we resist God and abuse his good gifts through selfishness, self-indulgence, and excess.
Here are three ideas to kick around:
1) We as people are not morally neutral in the way we relate to God. During our lives we are either responding to our surroundings and experiences with grateful worship towards God and motivation to serve him or with distorted self-gratifying and self-glorifying pursuits. This means that the practice of giving thanks to God throughout our lives is not a mere afterthought of minor importance: it reflects a fundamentally healthy orientation towards God. The alternative is a rebellious “suppression of the truth” (Romans 1:18). Of course, we all are naturally “bent” away from God and towards ourselves (as the first several chapters of Romans make clear). But the transforming grace and power we receive through Christ and by the Spirit allows us to fulfill the original design humans were given when God made Adam and Eve in his image, before their descent into sin (see Romans 8:3-4; Col 3:9-10). Being restored to God’s image in Christ enables us to give him heartfelt thanks and praise for his many good gifts.
2) Giving thanks can serve as a great antidote to the so-called “seven deadly sins.”
We can give thanks for food instead of consuming it mindlessly and excessively (gluttony). The practice of giving thanks before meals makes a lot of sense from this perspective!
We can give thanks for beauty and things that delight our five senses rather than treating beautiful things or people as commodities to “consume” for our own selfish pleasures (lust).
We can give thanks for our God-given skills, abilities, and spiritual gifts rather than boasting about them and elevating ourselves above others (pride).
We can give thanks for our friends’ and colleagues’ talents, achievements, and resources rather than seeking to snatch them away for ourselves, along with the applause or purchasing-power that accompanies them (envy).
We can give thanks for God’s provision of finances or opportunities without hoarding them, using them for selfish gain, or obsessively striving to obtain even more (greed).
We can give thanks for rest and refreshment instead of over-indulging in those comforts (sloth).
We can thank God for his justice and judgments rather than “venting” our offended emotions and recklessly attempting to enact justice or revenge on our own (rage).
3. Thanksgiving can also help us avoid the opposite extreme – unnatural detachment from our physical world. The apostle Paul battled some of this misguided asceticism in his day. For instance, Paul castigates those who “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth” (1 Tim 4:3). Paul counters with this perspective on physical life and creation: “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). Thanksgiving is the gateway to healthy and holy enjoyment of God’s good creation.
Our family is working on the practice of thanksgiving this summer – whether it is for a tasty meal, a good night’s sleep, the sunny and breezy outdoors of rural Indiana, our most recent paycheck, the timing of answered prayers, or the personal gifts or achievements of family members or friends. I am realizing more and more that giving thanks is central, not incidental, to a life of following Jesus.