Cicero once wrote, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but also the parent of all the others." I couldn't agree more with the great philosopher. But if thankfulness is at the heart of all virtue, certainly thanklessness is the mother of all sins.
We've come a long way since that first day in 1621, when that little band of men and women, with Indian guests, gathered around a table for the New World's first Thanksgiving dinner. They didn't have much. In fact, they were impoverished and had suffered tremendously. Half their members had perished during the previous winter. Their first harvest was hardly a harvest at all by our standards, but they were thankful to God.
Today America has a population of nearly three hundred million people. We produce more than any other nation in the world. The median family income is $50,000 annually. In a time of war, God has given us victory over our enemies. Yet we are so unthankful. At this time of the year, real thankfulness could be the turn-about our nation desperately needs.
Luke 24:13-33 tells the remarkable story of how Jesus appeared after His resurrection to two men on their way to Emmaus. They had hoped Jesus was the promised Messiah who would redeem Israel. But their hopes had been dashed since Jesus was crucified and even His body now appeared to be stolen. Feeling distraught, perplexed and defeated, they didn't recognize Jesus as He came alongside to walk with them down that dusty road.
As they arrived at Emmaus during eventide, they prepared to partake of a meal together. Still a stranger to them, Jesus lifted up His voice in thanksgiving as He broke bread. It was in that moment, the Bible says, "their eyes were opened" and joy filled their hearts. They realized Jesus was not dead, but risen, alive and present with them. It's profoundly significant that they recognized our Lord in the act of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving opens the way to the presence of God.
Dr. George Sweeting, chancellor of Moody Bible Institute, has written: "When you are thankful, you see God's love and goodness. Your eyes are wide open to his judgments. You are receptive to His will. Unthankfulness, by contrast, blinds the eyes. An unthankful person may not even know that God is in the picture. An unthankful nation is no better. An unthankful nation is an unthinking nation, and its people are in mortal danger. America's deepest problems come from blindness to the goodness and power of God. These are the products of unthankfulness."
The description in Romans 1:21 of a world gone awry supports Dr. Sweeting's remarks: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened." Verse 26 adds, "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections." And in verse 28, we find another enlightening statement: "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind."
How interesting that the advance of various forms of profligate living today -- abortion, gambling, substance abuse, divorce, homosexuality, efforts to remove God from the public arena -- all stem from the sin of thanklessness! We fail to recognize God and His ways. Ungrateful, we move toward the abyss -- the time when He will judge us as a reprobate people -- a nation incapable of good.
We are, unfortunately, so far removed from that first Thanksgiving proclamation given by George Washington in 1789: "Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection, and favors .... Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 24th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of the country, and for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us."
The Masai tribe in West Africa have an unusual way of saying thank you. Translators tell us that when the Masai express thanks, they bow, put their foreheads on the ground, and say, "My head is in the dirt." These Africans understand well the meaning of thanksgiving and why we have such difficulty with it. Thanksgiving at its core is an act of humility. Full of pride, our nation has affirmed the rights of men at the expense of God's rights. We have sold our Christian birthright for a mess of secular humanism's pottage. We are devoid of that spirit which says, "We are what we are by the grace of God alone."
There is no better time to turn back than the season of Thanksgiving. Shakespeare once wrote: "O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness." Would you want to make that your prayer? Have you demonstrated thankfulness by turning to Christ and receiving Him as your Savior from sin? I tell you such is the beginning of a righteous life!
[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on November 24, 2004.]
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.