Thanksgiving 2018, Idolatry, and Deuteronomic Pie

Introduction:

One of the more pleasant customs around here is to write something every Thanksgiving about how good God has been to us. But this is really not a “break” from all the culture war stuff—gratitude actually ought to be our central weapon in the culture war. Thanksgiving is not simply the name of our holiday; it is an individualized, shoulder-mounted, surface-to-air missile, capable of taking out every form of high-flying ingratitude. Just point and shoot.

The opposite of gratitude is envy, self-pity, and malice, and those three things are the driving engine of all our societal woes, from socialism to demented gender-bending, from coercive bureaucrats with a bad case of libido dominandi to trillions of gallons of red ink, stored in billions of fifty gallon drums in a warehouse the size of Rhode Island. You name it, prideful envy is calling the shots.

Manifest blessings in the spirit of Deuteronomy . . . a pretty girl, clearly devout, making a pie.

And when believers respond with fear and dismay, their tactic is working. We ought to respond with joy and hard work, with songs of deliverance straight out of the psalter, with exuberance in our families, with an urgent request of our preachers that they start preaching high and inside, and with lots of pie. The pie will help keep us centered. The pie will remind us that we are not gnostics, but rather that we are rejoicing in the blessings of Deuteronomy.

Stuff That Works:

The vicarious, substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, so that our old man might be laid in the grave, and the resurrection of Christ from the tomb so that our new man could emerge with Him, coming out into an everlasting newness of life. That God has placed me in the family He has—a glorious wife, three devout and talented children, spouses to match, and a passel of grandchildren, all of whom love the Lord. A truck that works. The opportunity, honor, and privilege of caring for my aging father. Writing software—the kind that enables me to write the way I love to do, and the kind that enables me then, just moments later, to click publish. Scores of books that come to me in various guises—hardback, paperback, e-books, and audio. Bible study software—in my case Logos 8—which currently is serving and amazing me. I cannot believe how many libraries are right at my fingertips now, and how many hundreds of thousands of Bible research cyber-interns are waiting on cyber-tiptoe, just waiting for me to want to find out something like where Midian was exactly. And let us not forget the pie—apple, pumpkin, pecan, and other periodic contenders.

The reason we do not leave out the pie, the reason we must not leave out the pie, is that I am reliably informed by the Lexham Bible Dictionary, embedded right here in Logos 8, that “texts like Luke 24:30 indicate that thanksgiving held an important part in Jewish and Christian meals.”[1] And thanksgiving meals without pies would be a culinary version of an anti-climactic letdown problem meal, and so of course pies are biblical. They are the capstone of the Deuteronomic blessing. “Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store” (Deut. 28:5). So pies.

Idolatry and Stuff:

Idolatry is what happens whenever we put a created thing into the place that should be reserved for the Creator alone. Idolatry is not what happens when you like something a lot, like pies, or if you value something a great deal, like your family. It has become customary for pious Christians to worry out loud about “idolatry” whenever something becomes important to other Christians.

Paul tells us that a covetous man is an idolater (Eph. 5:5)—and what makes him an idolater is the fact of the greed. You can have an idol, even though you don’t light candles in front of it, or leave baskets of fruit. So of course it is possible to idolize anything. This is why Jesus said what He did about family.

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

So if some fellow is spied by the devout who thinks the world of his father, mother, wife, children, brethren and sisters, and his own life, the worries about idolatry begin. Look at that guy, thinking the world of his family. Idolatry is just around the corner. He ought to read his Bible more.

The problem is that Jesus said the same thing about Bible reading.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39, ESV).

Shoot. Okay. How about an orthodox worship of God? Same thing again.

“When ye come to appear before me, Who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?” (Isaiah 1:12).

Rigorous tithing?

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt. 23:23).

Our approach to the world can be thick or thin, and idolatry is every bit as possible for those with the thin approach as it is for those with the thick approach. One man loves his chest full of gold doubloons, and loves them unduly, while another man loves his chest full of his own opinions about the gold doubloons of others, and he loves them unduly. The gold doubloons can always be photographed, while the opinions of the idolatry-censors are a bit more chary than to allow that.

The blessings of Deuteronomy are thick, and the danger of idolatry is warned against.  

“Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deut. 8:12–14).

But the danger of idolatry—which is always a danger for sinners of every stripe—was not a sufficient danger to make God stint when it came to the dispensing of blessing. God took His people and ladled His blessings over their heads, apparently using a celestial-sized snow shovel.

And whatever you think of the relationship of the old and new covenants, it would be hard to dispute that Americans have been singularly blessed in this fashion. Our blessings are numerous, almost beyond calculation. Our blessings are Deuteronomic, our blessings are thick, and so when we gather around our Thanksgiving tables later today, our gratitude to God needs to be twice as thick.

If the blessings are abundant, nothing spiritual is accomplished if we put them all in a bucket, and pour the paint thinner of ingratitude over the top. That doesn’t work even if the paint thinner has a spiritual-sounding name like Material-Blessing-B-Gone.

So if the blessings are abundant, the only thing that will serve is abundant gratitude. And we are not doing it right unless we worship and adore the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, adoring Him all along the waterfront. We worship the one who blessed us with the blood of the everlasting covenant. And with the pies.   


[1] Chris McKnight, “Thanksgiving,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

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