A Thanksgiving Miscellany

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A Thanksgiving Apologetic

Let us begin with the obvious. By definition, any sentient creature has one constant, solemn, unremitting duty, and that is the duty of gratitude. To be a creature is, in the very nature of the case, to be in debt. There is no question of paying off this debt—paying it off is impossible, unthinkable. Merely by creating us, God has placed us in an impossible position. How can a creature reward his Creator? Which pocket can we reach down into in order to make things even? Reach deeper. Maybe it is in your other jeans. He has given you life, and breath, and being, and you are going to give Him some pocket lint?

““Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

Rom. 11:35-36 (NKJV)

There is only one appropriate response to this torrent of grace to us, and that is the response of gratitude. This is why gratitude is the bedrock apologetic that we Christians must present to the world. Of course this cannot be separated from love, or trust, or joy, but the mere fact of existing, and doing so at the will of another . . . what should spring from our sense of dependence and contingency? Without gratitude, what springs from it is worry and anxiety. But when covered over with gratitude, like gravy over mashed potatoes, our sense of created wonder is amplified by gratitude.

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

G.K. Chesterton

That’s it, right there. So atheism is nothing but an insolent ingratitude, and if it is a scientific atheism, it is insolent ingratitude hiding underneath some big words. In the space of ten minutes, God gives every one of us more gifts than we could possibly catalog in a lifetime.

We walk right by them all, as though we had a birthright or prior claim to ankles that work, lungs that work, a liver that works, eyes that work, and a digestive system that is anticipating the turkey, the dressing, the rolls, the honey butter, and the potatoes.

More than this, all of these table gifts are shared, shared with family and friends. Wives, husbands, children, grandchildren, friends, relations, shirttail relations, all of them gathered.

So here is my presuppositional argument from gratitude. I am a contingent being. I did not create myself, and I do not sustain myself, except by the designated means. When I say I do not sustain myself, I do not mean that I do not nourish myself by eating and drinking, but rather that I do not hold the atoms and molecules in my body together. I am absolutely contingent.

If God let go, I would make a funny noise and disappear into nothing. I am therefore massively in debt. Every moment that passes increases the debt. Whom shall I thank? Thanking the one responsible is a profound moral imperative, and so I must thank Him. But if He did not exist, then I would not be able to thank Him—something too horrible even to contemplate. Thanksgiving is therefore a prerequisite to every form of true rationality.

Such a Wife!

As it happened, the week leading up to Thanksgiving saw a clip of some of Nancy’s parenting advice go viral. Millions of people watched it, Newsweek did a story on it, and many, many people had some hot takes. Many of those with hot takes also have children who must, one surmises, be difficult to be around.

But also, as it happened, I was going through Sense and Sensibility again at the very same time, and the thing dawned on me. We have turned into a nation of Miss Steeles.

“But unfortunately in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship’s head dress slightly scratching the child’s neck, produced from this pattern of gentleness such violent screams, as could hardly be outdone by any creature professedly noisy. The mother’s consternation was excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of the Miss Steeles, and every thing was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little sufferer. She was seated in her mother’s lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar plums by the other. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were ineffectual till Lady Middleton luckily remembering that in a scene of similar distress last week, some apricot marmalade had been successfully applied for a bruised temple, the same remedy was eagerly proposed for this unfortunate scratch, and a slight intermission of screams in the young lady on hearing it, gave them reason to hope that it would not be rejected.—She was carried out of the room therefore in her mother’s arms, in quest of this medicine, and as the two boys chose to follow, though earnestly entreated by their mother to stay behind, the four young ladies were left in a quietness which the room had not known for many hours.”

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

God blessed me with the kind of wife who shared the Austenian outlook. She loved our children too much to let them go out into the world in the state of unpreparedness that therapeutic mollycoddling produces. As a result, I am surrounded by a family of Puritan women, whose response to any scene like that described above would be something like, “blow it out, dear, that’s quite enough.”

In the meantime, instead of getting all whizzed up about the notoriety, not to mention the jealousy of extended family—I mean, Nancy could do with a wooden spatula what I couldn’t do with a flamethrower that could shoot out forty feet—she instead turned herself to the task of pies, turkey, dressing, and a home full of joy that was fully ready for our people.

She taught literature for many years, but I am so grateful that she did never acquired that peculiar literature-teaching disease, a disease which produces the kind of people who can see everything in a text but themselves.

Lines in Pleasant Places

And I would be remiss this Thanksgiving if I did not give public thanks to God for our new home. We have been here four months now, after a pilgrimage through a five-year hiatus. Our previous home, which we lived in for a couple of decades, was built by Nate and by me, in a project that might be called “the shop class that neither of us had ever had.” Not only that, but we did it before You Tube. A friend gave me a book entitled something like How to Build a House, which was clearly a hazardous thing to do.

As the Lord led, after those wonderful decades, we moved in with my father for four years, taking care of him, during which time we sold our house. After he went to glory, we moved into our daughter’s basement apartment for a year while our new place was being built. I didn’t do any work on this new house though, unless you count hanging curtain rods. But you can count the curtain rods if you like. “Yeah, I worked on part of it.” Either way, we are profoundly grateful.

“The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; Yea, I have a goodly heritage.”

Psalm 16:6 (KJV)

There are many features of our new digs that are just a blast and a blessing, and our builders did themselves proud. Every spot in this house is a happy spot, and it is hard to know where to sit. But I will mention just one of the lesser blessings. We have an attached garage, and on one wall of that garage is a fine set of shelves for storage. Accessible storage, people.

“Through wisdom is an house builded; And by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”

Proverbs 24:3-4 (KJV)

Now these shelves do not contain precious and pleasant riches exactly, but I can still resonate with the psalmist, in that we now have a place to put coolers, and suitcases, and boxes of pictures, and box fans. That will do for “chambers filled.”

A Final Exhortation

I would ask God that everyone who reads these words, for whatever reason, might have a Thanksgiving that is truly blessed. Don’t look at the Giver instead of the gifts—learn rather to look to the Giver through His gifts. Every last blessing He gives us, material or not, is designed by Him to be a window, through which we may view the eternal goodness of our heavenly Father. And, as all of you Christians know, the only way to come to Him as to a Father, is through the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

So may the Spirit instruct you as you walk through your cascading catechism of blessings. Because He is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, He is also the Father behind brown gravy. He is the Father behind fog on the mountain. He is the Father behind small children who gather around tables expectantly. He is the Father behind the roof over your head. He is the Father behind the air in your lungs right now. He is the Father behind lights that work. He is the Father behind cars that make their way to grandmother’s house. He is the Father behind the Christmas music straining at the gate.

He is the Father above, beneath, before and behind everyting. He is necessarily the one in whom we live, move, and have our being. Happy Thanksgiving.