24 November 2006

"...neither were thankful..."

by Dan Phillips

Not very "seeker sensitive" of him, but when Paul wants to talk about the Good News, he starts out with lots and lots of bad news (Romans 1:18ff.).

The apostle's opening salvo against humanity begins with the global cause in "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (v. 18), and ends with a damning list of effects (vv. 28-31), and the summary statement: "Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (v. 32).

Towards the beginning, Paul memorably styles mankind as anapologetous, "incapable of defense," "without defense, "without excuse" (v. 20). He presents this as the result of God's self-revelation in creation; and then Paul further explains their indefensibility in v. 21 -- "because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor did they give thanks." The "as God" is put forward syntactically; you could woodenly render it, "they did not as God glorify nor thank."

God is owed glory and thanks. It is His due, it is fitting, it simply follows from the majesty of His being. Paul does not here give further reasons; J. B. Phillips' paraphrase says "to thank him for what he is or does," but the apostle does not. Simply because He is God, before He says or does one thing, He is inherently worthy of glory, and worthy of thanks.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in America, and I'm sure some of us chuckle a bit, as we do at the Day of Prayer. As if a husband had "kiss the wife" on a list of things to do once a day, so once a year we say we are supposed to do what we really should be doing every day of the year -- praying, and saying "Thank You." If we only do it that one day, and only because Washington, Congress, or whoever said that we should, the reality of the day is questionable.

But our society can't hold on to even such a simple, basic concept. One of the earliest lessons we have to teach our children is to say "Thank you," and we think a person graceless if he hasn't learn that lesson -- on the horizontal plane. But on the vertical? Our society gives a bye. Many of us are far too clever even to say "Thanksgiving," so we call it "Turkey Day." Even if we can choke out the word "thanks," we botch it.

The convivial Martha Stewart, according to a comment by Tracy over at my blog, said something like, "We have a lot to be thankful for in this country. We owe a lot of thanks to the farmers who provide our wonderful produce like these beautiful cranberries." And we've all heard of government indoctrination centers ("public schools"), in which the children are taught that the purpose of Thanksgiving was to thank the Indians for teaching survival skills. Often enough, one sees moderating, vague statements such as "we should all be thankful," or "Americans express gratitude" -- which, if it were submitted as an essay in our non-government school, would be greeted with a curt "to whom or what?" In red ink.

The real attitude of too many was doubtless expressed in the prayer of that great sage Bart Simpson: "Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing." Good luck and hard work, those are our real benefactors.

Only by the Biblical vision of God can and do we see the crude, low, even treacherous nature of this attitude of ingratitude.
  • You paid for it yourself? How is it that you had "all this stuff" to buy, in the first place? God (Acts 14:17).
  • Your hard work? Who is it who even gives you the breath you breathe, let alone the health you enjoy? God (Daniel 5:23; cf. James 4:13-17).
  • Your stable economy? Who is it who appoints your leaders, and gives you a stable economy, if you have one? God (Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21; 4:25; Romans 13:1-5).
  • Your "good luck"? What's that? There is no such thing. There is only a God who controls all things, down to the roll of the dice (Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 16:33).
And if this is true of even the paganest pagan -- and it is -- how much truer is it of the Christian?
  • You have a knowledge of God and Christ? Where did that come from, but a sovereign act of God (Matthew 11:27)?
  • You have the least spiritual life in your breast? And how did you manage that? You didn't. It comes straight from the hand of God (Ephesians 2:1f.)
  • You have saving faith? And how did that happen to a God-hating rebel, if not by a work of God's grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 1:29)?
  • You have glimmers of holiness, of any sort, in your life? And how can an unholy wretch produce that? He cannot. It is a result of the eternal, sovereign election of God (Ephesians 1:4).
  • You cling to Christ for your salvation, you persevere in faith? And how do you, weak and unable to do anything in yourself (John 15), work that out? You do it by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5).
We could go on, and on, and on.

...and I really think we should.

That's my point.

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

My apologies to those of you who get notices every time something is published (a process I don't really understand). This is one of those that looked done, and then when I put it up, I immediately found something wrong, fixed it; then another thing; then another, then I got another idea; then another....

Anyway, all that to say, "Sorry." There really aren't fourteen new posts on Pyro. Just one inept writer.

Taliesin said...

- You love God. But you (and I) were sinners (and therefore enemies of God) (Romans 5:8) and only love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Thanks Dan. Good post-Thanksgiving Day reminder.

DJP said...

Amen! Excellent!

< fighting temptation to go back and make just one more edit... >

Connie said...

Appreciate your post--a very timely reminder.

I've been reading/studying through Romans and have just recently finished the first chapter.

Can any true believer walk away from that first chapter without a deeper sense of gratitude and "thanks giving" to God for what He has done for us?

In our culture of entitlement and self-sufficiency, it's a constant challenge and responsiblity to point our children to an attitude of thankfulness TO GOD.

FX Turk said...

Yeah, that Paul -- Christianity sure was a nice little religion before he made it all about Grace and Peace.

donsands said...

Some more good thoughts for the mind and heart.

One verse came to mind.

"But love your enemies, ... and you shall be the children of the Highest; for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." Luke 6:35

wordsmith said...

Reminds me of something I was thinking about the other day, and I later heard on Dennis Prager:

If you don't believe in a "higher power" or Supreme Being of some sort, how can you give thanks? You can't give thanks to an inanimate object, and you can't give thanks to an institution. Whom is the atheist/agnostic thanking?

Kind of shoots the theory that Thanksgiving is a holiday that irreligious people can partake in.

Robert said...

What!?!?! Paul starts off Romans calling us sinners?!? Isn't that too negative?! Doesn't he know that "God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life."!?

Rick Potter said...

I think this is one of the single most important phrases of the post:

"Only by the Biblical vision of God can and do we see the crude, low, even treacherous nature of this attitude of ingratitude."

I say that because even though all men have the implanted knowledge of God, (sensus divinitatis) this is not a saving knowledge. To be sure it is a theistic model, but it is not Christian belief. It is a revelation of God - which wicked men suppress. And I beleive it to be true knowledge rather than just a capacity for knowledge.

Once the truth of the gospel does it's work is when a man is truly thankful.

I hope I've expressed that clearly. I don't know why but I having somewhat of a problem with the post that I can't put my finger on. I think it was something Platinga said about "Warranted Christian Belief" but I can't recall it now. Anyway, a good post Dan.


Kevin Stilley said...

Your essay made me think of that classic scene in the movie Shenendoah in which Jimmy Stewart gives a prayer of "thanksgiving":

"Lord, we cleared this land by the sweat of our brow. We tilled and prepared the land. We planted and weeded and harvested by our own hard work. We have taken no charity from anyone, and if we hadn't done it ourselves it wouldn't have been done....but we are thankful to you anyway, Lord. Amen."

Stephen Thomas said...

I was thinking about something like this when I was praying on Wednesday night. There are a lot of non-Christians who talk about being thankful on Thanksgiving, but to who? Most never say, and I doubt they even think about it. But it seems to be that this ambiguous thankfulness is idolatry, just as it would be to thank a false God for blessings. People are thankful to something-or-other, and therefore their god is Something-or-other. So I prayed that God would not judge our society too harshly for engaging in mass idolatry on Thanksgiving.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Two thoughts:

1. Bless the Lord, Oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, Oh my soul, and forget none of His benefits. Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from the pit. Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion. - Ps. 103:1-4

2. You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. - Is. 12:1-6

David said...

Please refrain from calling public schools "government schools". I have always appreciated your posts very much, but unless I'm mistaken, your address is not Moscow, ID.

Fayemi said...

Have any of you had this happen to you? It seems to me that the churches and Bible studies that I have attended, the prayers were mostly petitions with very little praise or thankfullness to our God. If any praise or thankfullness were given, it was about a breaths worth or a single sentence and the petitions consumed the rest of the lengthy prayer. I remember being rebuked by a pastor's wife for asking in a prayer for God to help me to be more grateful and thankful to Him. It helps me to focus on the attributes of God if my praise and thanksgiving to Him during my prayer time are greater than my petitions.

DJP said...

Sparrowhawk -- Please refrain from calling public schools "government schools".

Did I? I usually call them "government indoctrination camps." Sorry if I slipped.

Dave said...

Another rebuttal to the "i did it myself" mentality:

"You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today." (Deut. 8:17-18)

farmboy said...

"Please refrain from calling public schools 'government schools'. I have always appreciated your posts very much, but unless I'm mistaken, your address is not Moscow, ID."

Public schools are funded and operated by government entities. The government (whether federal, state or local) collects taxes and uses these tax collections to fund public education. Along with all the other oversight agencies at the federal and state levels, local school boards are government agencies. It follows then that "public schools" and "government schools" are essentially synonyms. To argue then that public schools should not be called government schools is equivalent to arguing that rain should not be called liquid precipitation.

There must be something more controversial coming out of Moscow, Idaho than a steady stream of quality potatoes.

Note that even private schools are tainted by government funding (i.e. subsidization) and the government control that inevitably follows. Hillsdale College in Michigan and Grove City College in Pennsylvania have taken steps to remove this threat of government interference. Christian colleges and universities would do well to at least consider the examples provided by Hillsdale and Grove City.