Giving Thanks in 2020

The artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti famously quipped, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is genuinely thankful, but has nobody to thank.” I remember when President Ronald Reagan invited Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to his California ranch for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Soviet leader, a professed atheist, declined the invitation. I thought at the time that the reason may have been that thanksgiving implies the existence of Someone to whom we should be thankful.

Well, yes. The eminent Czech composer Antonin Dvorak began writing his new music with the words, “with God” and ended with “God be thanked.” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote in the margins of his music “SDG” for Soli Deo Gloria, or “glory to God alone.”

Augustine described the Christian life as an “alleluia from head to foot.” The seventeenth-century Anglican poet George Herbert included a prayer in one of his poems, “You have given so much to me. Give me one thing more — a grateful heart.” Os Guinness wrote that “gratitude must be our first and constant response to God.”

This year has been a difficult one for our nation. PeopleĀ  are out of work. The pandemic is still spreading. Children cannot attend school in the normal way. We have just had a contentious election. Riots, racial hatred, and political extremists have threatened public order. It is easy to forget that there is still much for which to be thankful.

A recent column by Jonah Goldberg, titled “It’s a Great Time to be Alive,” elaborated on this theme. Despite the fact that we seem only to hear bad news, we should be thankful for the under-reported good news. He says the situation is far better than pundits and politicians often claim.

For example, over the past thirty years, worldwide poverty has been on the decline. Global GDP has increased by 621%. Literacy, infant mortality, hunger, work-related deaths and other benchmarks of human misery have been improving for years. Goldberg says this is because of public health and anti-poverty programs, the expansion of international trade, liberty and technological innovation.

In America, we still enjoy relative peace, freedom, and a prosperity unprecedented in world history.

His article concluded, “None of this is to say that we don’t have problems. But when all we hear about are the problems, it’s not surprising that people think that all we have are problems.” He didn’t say it, but as Thanksgiving Day approaches, these are reasons to speak words of appreciation to that Great Someone from whom all blessings flow.

Jesus certainly did. As an observant Jew, he no doubt thanked God before and after every meal. He would have prayed the great thanksgiving psalms with deep gratitude for God’s love and faithfulness. In his hymn of jubilation (Luke 10:21) he prayed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, this is what you were pleased to do.”

In the upper room, with his imminent death heavy on his heart, he took bread and “when he had given thanks” (Luke 22:19), he gave it to his disciples. If the Lord Jesus could give thanks in the darkest moments of his life, then you and I can find many reasons to give thanks, even in the year 2020.

Pastor Randy Faulkner