Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act. Have you in recent years even thought about it that way? The God of the universe created mankind, according to the Bible to glorify and enjoy Him forever . hence giving continual thanksgiving and setting aside specific days of thanksgiving.
So you see, it is a theological act. Theology means "the study of God" in its simplest form, and in order for us to glorify and enjoy God, we must know God, and to know God is to spend some time in the study of Him, as well as acting out what we know of God before others . hence, thanksgiving.
So, let's consider this question for a moment: "Can we really be thankful without being thankful to someone?" It makes no sense to express thankfulness to a purely naturalistic system. The late Stephen Jay Gould, an atheist and one of the foremost paleontologists and evolutionists of his day, described human life as "but a tiny, late-arising twig on life's enormously arborescent bush." Gould was a clear-headed evolutionist who took the theory of evolution to its ultimate conclusion - human life is merely an accident, though a very happy accident for us. Within that world view, how does thankfulness work?
So instead, we are thankful for our loved ones, for those who fight in wars in our place, for those who keep us safe here at home and for our own accomplishments. But are these the ones who were in mind in the first Thanksgiving and every consequent Thanksgiving in this country? No! The God of the universe has always been in mind, for it was always understood that He and He alone is the One who provided through His divine providence all of these things for mankind. So, the only proper one to be thankful to is the God of the universe, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is humbling to see that Paul in the first chapter of Romans so explicitly links a lack of thankfulness to sin, foolishness and idolatry. A lack of proper thankfulness to God is a clear sign of a basic godlessness. Millions of Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with little consciousness of this truth. Our impulse to express gratitude is specific proof of our spiritual need that can be met only in Christ.
Sinners saved by the grace and mercy of Christ alone (Christians) know a thankfulness that exceeds any merely 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 and the unspeakable gift of the surpassing grace of God? As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15, ESV).
So, observe a wonderful Thanksgiving - but realize that a proper Thanksgiving is a deeply theological act that requires an active mind as well as a thankful heart. We need to think deeply, widely, carefully and faithfully about the countless reasons for our thankfulness to God.
So have a very Happy Thanksgiving - and remember that giving thanks is one of the most explicitly theological acts any human can contemplate. Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!" (1 Chronicles 16:34, ESV). Give thanks.
Mike Singenstreu is pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church.