Thanksgiving and the Existence of God
In her New York Times bestseller, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, conservative columnist, Ann Coulter, begins by citing the apostle Paul who wrote, “They exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator . . .” (1). In a later chapter on the fruits of evolution Coulter again references the first chapter of Romans and says:
Upon first reading The Origin of Species, Darwin’s mentor from Cambridge, Adam Sedgwick, wrote a letter warning Darwin that he was “deep in the mire of folly” if he was trying to remove the idea of morality from nature. If such a separation between the physical and the moral were ever to occur, Sedgwick said, it would “sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history.” (268)
As Coulter has implied in her book, Romans 1:18-32 is a kind of “classic” statement on the practical results of the removal of God from the mind. Paul wrote, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28, emp. added). Two of “those things” that are the result of “knowing God,” yet thinking God to not be “worth the knowledge” (Vincent 21), are stated in verse twenty-one: “. . . [K]nowing God, they glorified Him not as God, neither gave thanks” (Romans 1:21). British apologist, John Blanchard, has observed: “Of all the defects the Bible finds in atheists, these [i.e. failure to glorify God or give thanks] are two of the most obvious” (485-86). Glorifying God and gratitude go hand-in-hand.
Pilgrims and Presidents
The relationship between glorifying God and thanksgiving (gratitude) is evident in the arrival of the Pilgrims who came to the northern wilderness of America by way of the Mayflower in 1620. Their mission was “for the glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith” and, although they left no detailed account of their thanksgiving celebration (Fall of 1621), their practice “set the stage for the later American observance of Thanksgiving” (Moore 16). Under the U.S. Constitution, the first official national Thanksgiving was during the Administration of George Washington in 1789. A resolution was adopted in the House of Representatives, September 25, 1789 (concurred by the Senate the same day), that the President of the United States “recommend to the people . . . a day of thanksgiving and prayer . . . acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God . . .” (Morris 678). On the third day of October 1789, Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Day proclamation under the Constitution, to be observed the following November 26, 1789.
Less than seventy-five years later, Abraham Lincoln repeatedly called on Americans, through a number of official proclamations, to “acknowledge and revere the Supreme Government of God” (Ostergard 150). In a proclamation on April 10, 1862, Lincoln “recommended to the People of the United States that . . . they especially acknowledge and render thanks to our Heavenly Father . . . and that they reverently invoke the Divine Guidance for our national counsels” (200). On July 4, 1863, he declared, “He whose will, not ours, should ever be done, be everywhere remembered and reverenced with profoundest gratitude” (220). Following the battle at Vicksburg, Lincoln issued a proclamation that the 6th day of August (1863) be observed as “a day of National Thanksgiving, Praise and Prayer . . . [to] render the homage due to the Divine Majesty” (221). Two days following the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant (April 9, 1865), President Lincoln gave his last public address (April 11) in which he said, “He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated” (237-38). Three days later Lincoln was assassinated. His legacy, along with that of Washington and other great American leaders, resides in many things. However, central to all is the deep awareness within these leaders that God, because of His sufficiently evident reality manifested in the laws of nature, is to be acknowledged, glorified, and offered thanksgiving. For the most part, they recognized faith in God as the essential intellectual foundation for civil government itself.
Acknowledging the reality of God, giving Deity the glory that is exclusively reserved for God, and being thankful to Him from Whom all blessings ultimately come, is the foundation upon which the Plymouth Pilgrims began building America as a nation. For most of American history, building on this foundation continued. However, it is sad that there is an obvious retreat from this in American culture today. Numerous misguided leaders and citizens now seek to eliminate even the very mention of God in the workplace, the public assembly, etc. What a naïve betrayal of our roots this is! Blanchard sums up the practical application of this anti-theistic trend in America:
. . . Countless millions go through the average day with no conscious appreciation of God’s goodness and kindness to them, and without ever giving thanks to him for his gracious provision of their needs. Even “Thank God!” is often meaningless, or no more than a superstitious nod in the general direction of Deity, while vast numbers of people are more likely to read their horoscopes and thank their ‘lucky stars.’ It may seem strange to some that Paul should list ingratitude in his denunciation of atheistic behaviour, but this misses the point that giving thanks to God is not a suggestion but an instruction. Failing to thank God is not weakness but wickedness on the part of those who refuse to give God the place in their hearts, minds and lives which he deserves and demands. . . . [T]rue biblical religion calls men to acknowledge their Maker as being both great and gracious and as the ultimate reference-point for every question they will ever have to face. (488, 495)
Romans 1:18-32 is “perhaps the saddest commentary upon the lives and characters of men which can be found in all of literature. Let each person take heed . . .” (Warren 11). The degeneration, disintegration, and demise of humanity are inevitable when God is denied. Make no mistake about it! – Thanksgiving is one of the practical applications of America’s rich faith-in-God heritage. The survival of America depends on it. There is strength in God and gratitude. There is weakness in being “unthankful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:2). The history of America is evidence of it. The clash of worldviews presently taking place in America is evidence of it. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). Scripture answers: “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22). “[I]n everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Blanchard, John. Does God Believe in Atheists? Auburn: Evangelical, 2000.
Coulter, Ann. Godless: The Church of Liberalism. New York: Three Rivers, 2007.
Moore, James P. Jr. One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America. New York: Doubleday, 2005.
Morris, Benjamin. The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States. 2007. Powder Springs: American Vision, 2008.
Ostergard, Philip L. The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2008.
Vincent, Marvin R. Word Studies in the New Testament. Vol. 3. McLean: Macdonald, n.d. 4 vols.
Warren, Thomas B. “Some Results of Rejecting God.” Spiritual Sword. 8. 4 (1977): 8-11.