Thankful to Whom?: Apologetics, Thanksgiving and the Gospel
by Josh Waltman
Is Thanksgiving a time for gorging on lovingly (or perhaps laboriously) prepared feasts until we can’t move as a result of a food-comma? Is it filled with strategic plans for honoring the anti-holiday of consumerism that will inevitably follow the next day? Is it like that painting by Norman Rockwell or an excuse for families to see each other or a reminder of a general spirit of appreciation that every decent American should aspire to cultivate in his or her life?
The truth is we need the Gospel to fully celebrate Thanksgiving.
Thankfulness and the spirit of thanksgiving are by their very nature inextricably linked to the Christian’s most cherished beliefs. We might say that the secular world—and to personalize this, a secular family—has no consistent way to be thankful in the sense in which we have come to associate with the conviction of deep appreciation we so desperately hope to find in those we sit with around the holiday table. This is not to say that non-Christians can’t participate in the spirit of this holiday. In fact, that’s sort of the point. We all recognize the goodness of expressing sincere thankfulness in a meaningful way! The difference is the Christian can do so with consistency and with transcendent meaning.
Thankfulness and the Belief in God
Those who do not believe in God can be thankful that they have a family, that they have possessions, that they have life, and that they have the particular life circumstances that they enjoy. However, in the atheist’s world, all of these are reduced to the results of mere chance. It just so happened that they had evolutionary tools that allowed them to survive and reproduce. That’s all life is.
Ultimately, according to this belief system, human beings experience what we call “love,” “beauty,” and “virtue” only by evolutionary chance; these beliefs about life happened to aid in our species’ development along the way. In fact, a spirit of selfishness could have just as easily ruled the day in that development. So, who’s to say that self-sacrifice is worthy of celebration? Who’s to say that love is better than hatred in a moral sense? Who’s to say that family is better than no family? Sure, there are reasons these might be good for us psychologically or financially, but had evolution turned out in another way (which it could have), we’d be embracing an entirely different set of values. These virtues we want to hold so dearly cannot be held with any sense of objective finality.
What’s more is that if we embrace this perspective, as culture prescribes, then we have to say that any gratitude that we now experience along with any love and meaning we find in spending time with our families is all fleeting…