Thanksgiving is, of course, a major national holiday. But like many major holidays its meaning has largely been lost. Why celebrate Thanksgiving? The original purpose was to give thanks to God for His blessings during the previous year, and especially for a bountiful harvest. But in an increasingly secularized society fewer and fewer people can see any reasons to “give thanks.” Thanks to Whom? For what? Most people today have no idea.
The apostle Paul in the New Testament, however, gives us the underlying rationale. In Romans 11:36 he says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (NKJV). The first thing he says is that all things are “of Him” or “from Him.” God is the Creator. Apart from Him nothing would exist at all. Everything else in the universe, the earth, the stars and planets, the mountains, the seas, plant and animal life, even we ourselves, owes its existence solely to God. Without Him we would not exist at all.
But secondly, Paul says that all things are “through Him.” It was common, during the Eighteenth Century, to view creation as something that ran more or less mechanically. God was the divine Watchmaker, and having set the machinery in motion it ran on its own. But as Paul told the Athenians, God “gives to all life, breath and all things” and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25,28). And in Col. 1:17 he said “And he is before all things, and in Him all things consist”; and in Heb. 1:3 we read that Christ is “upholding all things by the word of His power.” Even scientists are forced to admit that nature does not work in a strictly mechanical fashion, at least not at the subatomic level (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). And even in normal cause and effect relationships God can so control the forces of nature that He is the One who ultimately determines the success or failure of a harvest.
“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises on the harp to our God,
Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass grow on the mountains.
He gives to the beast its food,
And to the young ravens that cry.”
But then Paul says that all things are “to Him,” or “unto Him.” If all things are created and sustained by God there must be an ultimate meaning and purpose to it. God created everything for His own purposes, and He wants us, as His creatures, to love Him and worship Him for all that He has done for us. Again, as Paul told the Athenians, God created “every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth . . .so that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:25,27). God is a personal Being, and He wants us to relate to Him in a personal way.
And so it is that Paul concludes by saying, “to whom be glory forever. Amen.” If we owe everything we have to God, including our very existence, then we should acknowledge the fact and praise Him accordingly. And that means that we should make a conscious effort to praise and worship Him. We should frequent a house of worship on a regular basis.
“Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
And His praise in the assembly of the saints.”
But then especially on a day like Thanksgiving we should take the time to honor Him for all the blessings of the past year.
“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the Lord is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.”