Deep Peril, Deep Thanksgiving

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We sometimes try to cultivate the right heart attitude by denying the obvious challenges and perils in the world around us, and we sometimes try to pretend that we see the “real world” by adopting a cynical and artistic posture toward it all. We think that in order to have an enjoyable thanksgiving, it would have to be in an idyllic Norman Rockwell setting—a cartoon thanksgiving. And if we have attained to the sophomoric wisdom of knowing that there is evil in the world, we think that we are justified in falling back into the profound evil of ingratitude.


“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee: And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever. Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the LORD shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee” (Dt. 28:45-49).


The 28th chapter of Deuteronomy contains a list of blessings for faithful obedience, and curses for unfaithful disobedience. The words of the law that are set before the people of Israel then are actually the words of the gospel, as Paul explains it (Rom. 10: ). They are words of gospel, that is, if we receive them in faith. In the course of explaining these blessings and curses, Moses makes this comment on what unfaithful disobedience actually looks like. The curses will chase down and overtake God’s people, destroying them, because they could not be bothered to do what God had told them to do (v. 45). And what was that? It was not because they had not gone around with pinched and pious faces. The problem was the opposite problem. The curses would rest on them as a sign and a wonder, and upon their children after them (v. 46). And why? Because they had not served the Lord their God with joyfulness, with gladness of heart, for the abundance of their stuff (v. 47). And because they did not serve the Lord with joy, then they might as well serve their enemies with no joy, since that is clearly more fitting (v. 48).


True faith sees the world as it is, and also sees the world as God has declared it will be. Carnal wisdom either opts for the upbeat attitude, and acts as though the world is not full of sin, or it sees the grit and rejects the attitude of triumphant gospel declaration. Churches that fall for the former problem devolve into a condition where the sermons are full of treacle, and the whole church falls into a sentimentalist vat of goo. Churches that drift into the latter error adopt a posture of “too cool to care.” They get their view of depravity, not from the apostle Paul, but from gritty film-makers. The former elevate a cozy community, while the latter embrace an autonomous (and very artsy) individualism. A plague on both their houses—we want to see the world for what it is in order to be able to overcome it. This is not possible unless we, like Abraham, look forward to the city that God is in the process of establishing. God has intervened in human history, He is intervening, and He will continue to intervene. The New Jerusalem descends from the heavens. So if we live by faith, we will not be content with superficial gratitude, and we will not be content with superficial ingratitude.


So Thanksgiving is not what we fight for. Thanksgiving is what we fight with. Take your celebration of Thanksgiving out of the scabbard. Consider these truths. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). The joy of the Lord is your strength “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). And of course we know that thanksgiving looks back on past blessings, but true thanksgiving also anticipates coming victories as well. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).


Some might want to say that they are not complaining, but rather just commenting. Right. Others want to say that the reason they grouse about stuff like WalMart, or pharmaceutical prices, or global corporations, or the Internet, or preservatives, or Nancy Pelosi’s Congress, is that they are bringing a Christian worldview critique to bear. Fine, but where is the joy? A sentimentalist resents having to fight, which is why his fighting, when it occurs, is so anemic. A biblical Christian hates evil, which is not the same thing as whining about it. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13), but it is a clean hatred—glittering, pointed and joyful.


And so, we know that the days are evil. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). But this is what Paul tells us right before he urges us to walk in the Spirit, overflowing with thanksgiving. In what kind of time are we to be filled with the Spirit, singing and psalming in our hearts? In evil days. And he says this right before he says to give thanks for all things (Eph. 5:20). Did we catch that? We give thanks for all things in evil days. We serve a sovereign God. And so, this Thursday, strike a blow for righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, and do it with turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, and pie.

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