The Prepositions of Thanksgiving
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
November 24, 2008 - The increasing secularization of the United States makes Thanksgiving paradoxical. At one point in our nation’s history, we publicly acknowledged the existence of a transcendent Creator – one in Whom those “inalienable rights” that are essential to being human are guaranteed. Even if such an acknowledgement, a form of civic religion, fell short of full-fledged Christian commitment, the public performance of this minimal profession of faith helped make sense of one of Thanksgiving’s two prepositions.
At Thanksgiving, we not only express what we are grateful for, but we also direct our thanks to the One toward Whom we ought principally to be grateful. Apart from the second preposition, Thanksgiving loses its meaning.
To be sure, Thanksgiving in a fully secularized state might remain a time of year when family and friends gather to express what they are grateful for. But the very nature of giving thanks, in itself, is such that it requires an object toward whom our gratefulness is directed. Apart from this, gratefulness becomes nothing but a vapid catharsis – an expression of meaningless sentimentality whose sole value consists in making us feel better about ourselves for having expressed the emotion.
Culturally, Christians must be vigilant about the loss of prepositions in the public sphere. For undirected celebration is not only pointless; it is unscriptural. Over and over again, the praise of the Psalmist is offered to a Person, not merely vocalized around a table.
“Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving . . .” (Psalm 95:2) May God give us grace to be mindful of this as we offer our thanks to the Source of every “good and perfect” gift.