In 1985, the musical artist Sting released his debut solo album. One song on this album was titled Russians. It became a very popular antiwar anthem during the closing decade of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The tag line at the end of every verse was “I hope the Russians love their children, too.” The message the song expressed was that no matter what country someone lived in or their political ideology, people experience the same emotions, thoughts, concerns and fears.
While everyone—Russian or American, Republican or Democrat, black, white or purple—can experience affection and emotions toward others, they cannot understand true love without having knowledge of the source of love: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8). Love is an attribute of God, and God is the source of love. We would not know about love if not for God’s revelation through His word.
The same could be said for thankfulness. One cannot truly be thankful unless they have knowledge of the source of thanksgiving: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). One must know God through His word and understand His love for humanity in order to have the right perspective on thanksgiving. The atheist denies the existence of God. According to that belief system, we merely “won the cosmic lottery.” Everything is a result of chance and random coincidences. If that were the case, we never could truly understand what thankfulness is, because we would have to admit that any benefit we have received was simply through blind luck. For the atheist, to express thankfulness would be hypocritical.
On the other hand, many who claim to believe in God do not have a proper understanding of God and do not know God. One such individual in scripture is the Pharisee in Luke 18. Jesus spoke this parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9). The Pharisee did not have the right relationship with God because he trusted in himself instead of trusting in God. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” The Pharisee claimed to thank God but gave himself all the glory. He boasted in his own accomplishments while feigning thankfulness to the Almighty, and, in doing so, he showed himself to be a hypocrite. This month in the United States, many will celebrate Thanksgiving Day, but for many people, it is merely a day off work. It is a day to overeat and watch football. It is a time to plan out a Black Friday strategy, with some stores now beginning their sales on Thursday evening. If people still take a moment to think about what they have, it may be only from a materialistic point of view. They are happy for what they have been able to accomplish and the stuff they have been able to accumulate.
As we focus on giving thanks this month, let us focus on the source of our blessings. The gifts that God offers to us through His grace and mercy are far beyond what we deserve. We deserve punishment and spiritual death (Rom 3:23; 6:23), yet God desires that everyone be saved and He paid the price to make it possible (1 Tim 2:4-6). When we know God and understand what He has done for us, this will lead us to fall at His feet in humility and obey His will so we can receive the gifts that He has promised. That is all about what true thankfulness is and why so many will celebrate in vain on the fourth Thursday of this month.