All my life I have enjoyed traditions. And one of the grand traditions of America is that of taking one day out of the year and setting it apart as a special holiday—a holy day to commemorate the benevolent providence of God.
It was originally called “Thanksgiving.” The idea of Thanksgiving Day has its roots in the bitter struggle that the original Founding Fathers had with the elements. The pilgrims who came to these shores in 1620 lacked the shelter, food and supplies they needed to endure, so their ranks were depleted by almost 50% in the first year. But instead of being bitter at the severe losses they experienced, they showed gratefulness to God for His kindness.
Today, the culture out of which the Thanksgiving celebration arose has changed. We are now in the secular age. We still have the tradition, but do you notice the subtlety with which the meaning of the tradition has gradually eroded? The holiday is as likely to be called “Turkey Day” as it is Thanksgiving.
I love all the festive traditions of Thanksgiving—the family gathered around and the turkey with the trimmings. Yet the idea that this is a moment to express profound and deep gratitude to the providence of God for a year’s worth of tender mercies and for His care, comfort and governance of our lives, has been largely forgotten.
However, I don’t think the resistance to the spiritual dimension of Thanksgiving is something particular to our generation or culture. The resistance to authentic thanksgiving is inherent to fallen humanity, but not to humanity as such. Because in the pre-fall Garden of Eden, every day was Thanksgiving Day! Every day was a day of feasting on the fruit that God had made available for His creatures. And every moment that God came into the Garden, He was greeted by loving, adoring creatures whose hearts were filled with gratitude to even be in the presence of God.
But with the fall, something penetrated the very soul of our humanity that persists to this day—a deep-rooted reluctance to gratitude before God. When we look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 1, the apostle spells out the universal foundation of the guilt of this world. And what he talks about in Romans 1 are what I call the primordial sins, the foundational sins of the human heart.
In Romans 1, Paul declares that creation itself has been a theater of divine revelation, from its very first moment. And that through the created order, God daily manifests Himself. Though God Himself is invisible, Paul tells us that the invisible things of God are clearly perceived, manifested through the things that are made—even His eternal power and Godhead (Romans 1:20).
Just as the psalmist said in the Old Testament-—that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1)—the magnificent beauty of the Creator is made crystal clear through His artistry.
Yet we live every day as people wearing blindfolds. And Paul brings the whole world to the tribunal of God and declares all mankind guilty. He does so on the basis of our persistent suppression and rejection of this natural revelation of the beauty of God.
Listen to what Paul says in Romans 1:18-21:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Do you hear that indictment? And do you see the twin evils—the two particular, universal crimes of a fallen humanity against a perfect, glorious and holy God?
First, they refused to honor God or acknowledge Him.
It’s not that they refused to know Him. It’s very clear in this passage that Paul is saying that the knowledge of God is inescapable. But the sin of man, the heart of man, is so dark that we refuse to acknowledge what we know to be true. We refuse to honor or worship Him as God, to give Him the honor that He deserves.
And the second sin is like unto the first—“neither were they grateful” (Cf. Romans 1:21). That’s why we take the thanks out of Thanksgiving. Because we understand that this day, in a secular nation, in a secular calendar, and in a secular creed, is intrusive. It intrudes into our secular culture and says, “Wait a minute! Stop! Acknowledge your Creator. Give honor where honor is due. And for once in this year, be grateful.”
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Apostle Paul gives a specific and special mandate to believers: that we ought always to pray, that we are to pray without ceasing—in season and out of season. And added to it is this apostolic injunction: In all of our prayers, we are to pray with thanksgiving. Fundamental to the Christian life is thanksgiving. It is not just one day out of 365 days. The Christian is called to be in a posture of thanksgiving every living moment of his or her life.
Let this year be different. Because on this day, every breath that you breathe comes through the goodness of God to whom honor is due and to whom thanksgiving is owed. Have a happy Thanksgiving. ©2021 Ligonier Ministries
This article from R.C. Sproul was adapted from an audio message available online at the Ligonier Ministries website, Ligonier.org.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was founder of Ligonier Ministries, founding pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and the first president of Reformation Bible College. His teaching broadcast, “Renewing Your Mind,” is still heard daily on hundreds of radio stations and online.