Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who Are You Thankful To?

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

I had a discussion with my 8 year old daughter recently about true blessings. I won't go into the specifics, but it generally concerned her acting as if we "owed" her something after we had already given her quite a few extras and she really wasn't appreciating them. She was expecting things rather than being grateful for what she had already been given. I talked to her about something we'd spoken about before. We talked about the many blessings in her life and how when we become accustomed to something we tend to take it for granted. Saying the words that there are people living in horrifying poverty just doesn't seem to sink in if we don't actually see these people every day or live in those circumstances ourselves. We tend to forget just how blessed we really are. My point is simply that most of us should not have trouble thinking of something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

But I admit to sometimes struggling when I look at verses like the one from 1 Thessalonians and hear God telling us to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances. I am more than willing to concede that I, living in the financially blessed American middle class, should be able to do so and when I don't it is the result of my own personal failing. But then I look at people like those in these pictures and ask, "What about them? How are they supposed to rejoice and be thankful?"

And yet many people living in poverty exhibit far greater appreciation for what little they have than those of us who possess far more, at least materially. Michael Ramsden, an apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, once commented that he believed one problem in the world is not that we have nothing to be thankful for, but we have no one to be thankful to. I think this is a profound conundrum on Thanksgiving for many people. I read a Facebook comment earlier today in which someone said that Thanksgiving was their favorite holiday because it is for "everyone," regardless of what religion you belong to or where you were born. There is a seed of truth in that, but there is a problem as well.

Who are you grateful to? Oh, I don't mean for the obvious things. Two dear friends of mine just gave me tickets to the Baltimore Ravens game this weekend (my wife has never been to an NFL game). In that situation I know who to thank. But what about the air I breathe? What about the fact that we live on a planet that has the right environmental factors to produce crops? I'm not talking about the surface details like football tickets. I'm talking about the fact that our most fundamental needs for survival are capable of being met. Yes, I am grateful to the farmers who bring us food. But if the Earth was not configured the way it is, it would not matter how much effort was put forth by the farmer, we could not produce crops. Who do you thank for those things?

These are the needs that are more foundational than anything else. If they aren't met, nothing else matters. Yet on this holiday when we are thanking people for football tickets, familial companionship, our job, or those lovely floats going past Macy's, who do we thank for the foundational things?

I thank God. In the theistic worldview, there is an ultimate source for these blessings. Even more so, in Christianity that source is a Person capable of being thanked. It makes no sense to thank some ill defined concept of "Nature" or "Mother Earth." Unless the bestower of these blessings has a will and chose to bless you with them, there is nothing to thank.

So I ask you to reflect this Thanksgiving not just on what you have to be thankful for (if we really think about it, there should be plenty of those things) but on who you are thankful to. If you find yourself struggling to find an answer, drop me a line. God bless you all and happy Thanksgiving.


JLTan said...

I was reflecting this morning how we often drop the name of Jesus these days. Eg. in some worship songs, we would "praise Him" without identifying who "Him" refers to. We are encouraged to have "faith", but are often not told who or what to have faith in.

While appreciating the simplicity and non-offensiveness of such expressions, I think we also need to remember to mention Jesus more specifically if we are to be salt and light to the world around us.

Igitur said...

There are some good things for which thankfulness is not the correct concept. The presence of oxygen to breathe is the consequence of natural processes that do not require an agency in which we can be thankful.

Ten Minas Ministries said...


Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this blog. I agree wholeheartedly. I have personally witnessed many Christians who unashamedly proclaim that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. But I have seen many others for whom the mere utterance of His name makes them uncomfortable. I believe many Christians, if they comfortably proclaim their faith at all, will thank “God” or “the Lord above” for their blessings. Please do not misunderstand me. I do not want to overly criticize these declarations because it is never wrong to sing God’s praises or to give Him the glory for our blessings. However, when this happens in our postmodern world, which “God” are they thanking? In the ears of our listeners, the Christian God often gets absorbed in the great melting pot of postmodern ideology. One person hears you praising Allah, another Mother Earth. Still another perhaps Vishnu. It is by declaring the name of “Jesus” that we differentiate of whom we speak. Thank you and God bless.

Ken Coughlan

Ten Minas Ministries said...


Again, thank you for visiting the Ten Minas blog and joining in the conversation. You say that there are some “good” things for which thankfulness is not the correct concept. I could ask how you define anything as “good” in a naturalistic worldview, but that would be taking us down another path. Stating that the presence of oxygen is the result of natural processes that do not require an agency to which we can be thankful illustrates my point. Phenomena like this are clearly beneficial to us. Under a theistic worldview we have both grounds to call them “good” and an agent to whom to express thanks. Under a naturalistic worldview you have neither. This post was not so much an argument for theism or against naturalism as much as it was simply an encouragement to fellow Christians to remember the blessings that we often take for granted when we feel like the entire world is against us. You say no agent is responsible for these phenomena, but of course a theist (i.e., the intended audience for this particular post) would disagree and point out that just because the immediate cause for a phenomenon is natural does not mean that the ultimate cause is not something, or someone more. God bless.

Ken Coughlan

Igitur said...

There is no evidence for the existence of an ultimate cause.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I would have to respectfully disagree with your latest statement. There is plenty of evidence for an ultimate cause. You, of course, are free to disagree with the conclusions which some people draw from that evidence, but in order to do so we must face these challenges head on rather than simply making the blanket statement that such evidence does not exist.

The kalam cosmological argument advocated prominently by William Lane Craig is one example. The form of the teleological argument advanced by Hugh Ross (and recently accepted by former atheist Antony Flew) is another. There are various resources on the Ten Minas website under the "Ten Minas Academy" tab which discuss these arguments in more detail.

But even without delving into cosmological or astronomical data we can see how an ultimate cause is an ontological necessity. For every phenonmenon in existence there are but two logical possibilties: either it was caused or it was uncaused. If A was caused by B, you may legitimately ask, "What caused B?" If B was caused by C, then we ask, "What caused C?" Where does it end?

Every process must have a starting point. If it does not begin, it cannot reach a destination. If the regression of causes is eternal, we could never have traversed that infinity to reach our current point. In order to have arrived at the destination of caused entities we see today, the progression from one cause to the next must have a beginning point, which is the definition of an ultimate cause.

Logically there are only two possibilities. It is at least logically possible to have a reality in which everything is uncaused, existing independently of all surrounding phenomena. But if even one thing is uncaused, eventually you must arrive at an ultimate cause in order to avoid an eternal regression. If you concede that the universe exhibits causation (which is an essential tenet of naturalism), an ultimate cause must exist.

This argument alone, of course, does not show that this ultimate cause is God, or even personal. But it must exist.