For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rm. 1:22, 23).
I heard Douglas Wilson at one time give an argument for the existence of God from the existence of God’s gifts. He argued this way: that if a man were walking through a deserted forest and along the way found a gift neatly wrapped, he would likely think it odd to find such a thing on a path going through such a forest. He might receive the gift, though he might consider it a sheer and freak coincidence that this one solitary gift was laid in the path of his footsteps. However, if that same man walked further and started to find gift after gift laid along the path that he alone was walking, he would by necessity conclude that someone had placed these things ahead of him and for his enjoyment. He would know from the string of gifts that there was a giver, and that giver, whoever he is, is deserving of thanksgiving.
The universe likewise is such a place where men live their lives and are constantly receiving gifts from God. We live each day partaking of the bounty granted to us–breathable air, drinkable water, food, family, the beauty of creation, the delay of justice for wrongs committed, and the gift of life by which we enjoy these things. All these gifts have been consistently laid before all of us, and oftentimes we have taken these gifts and have not given thanks where thanksgiving is due. We instead take for granted that these things are common blessings to all men, and, instead of responding with great joy in thanksgiving to the One who gave these things to us, we turn against God with hard and darkened hearts, declaring all these gifts to be freak accidents of some cosmic collisions that happened billions of years ago.
And this practice of living lives that receive the gifts of God but refuse to give thanks to him is not a practice restricted to post-Enlightenment and to the scientific age, but it has always existed where men have existed. The apostle Paul writing to the Romans testifies to this, saying, “Though [men] knew God [through the evidences in creation], they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In other words, men have always had a history of enjoying the gifts of God, but instead of viewing those gifts as they ought, viz. as the grand liberality of a good and powerful Creator toward his creatures, they turn with hard hearts against him, having become foolish in their thinking and having hearts that are darkened. These may even realize that these things are good gifts and may even have a spirit of thanksgiving (especially around Thanksgiving Day), yet they gives thanks to a phantom of non-existence, having a thankful spirit but not directing that thanks toward him who is the Giver.
The root of this refusal to give thanks is idolatry. And while it is common to think of idolatry as active praising and giving thanks to someone or something that is not God, it is also not to ascribe praise and thanksgiving where it rightly due. For even the popular atheist, Christopher Hitchens, attests to himself having a spirit of thanksgiving for the sake of his avoiding hubris, and his acknowledgement of the existence of this bounty of creation laid before him and his refusal to give thanks to him who gave it is the grossest form of idolatry–self-idolatry.
As we come into this season where men are called to give thanks for the blessings that have been granted them, it is a call to us for self-reflection. Do we give thanks where it is rightly due, and do we praise him to whom praise is due alone? Do we find ourselves with thankful hearts that survey each blessing that every new day brings to us, or do we grumble because of our grievances that are generally petty in comparison? Every gift granted to men is blood-bought gift of Christ, and those who do not praise him as that Giver will be condemned for it. May this season be a call to remembering him who has given to us all good things, Jesus Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.