“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).
Thanksgiving is an American holiday that stretches all the way back to a time long before America became a nation. The Pilgrims landed in 1620. They faced brutal conditions and were woefully unprepared. Roughly half of them died in that first year. Then they had a successful harvest of corn. In November of 1621 they decided to celebrate a feast of thanksgiving.
Edward Winslow was among those who ate that first thanksgiving meal in 1621. He noted:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we gathered the fruit of our labors. …And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want.”
So we have a holiday of thanksgiving born in and further nurtured during times of great adversity and struggle. We might think that times of adversity and challenge would spawn ingratitude, while times of prosperity would spawn gratitude. Sadly, the reverse is true. A chilling scene from the animated television show The Simpsons demonstrates this. Bart Simpson was called upon to pray for a meal, to which he promptly prayed, “Dear God, We paid for all of this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”
Prosperity breeds ingratitude. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism knew this. Question 28 asks what it benefits us to know that God creates and sustains all things. The answer is it gives patience in adversity and gratitude in prosperity. Moses also knew this. In Deuteronomy, he looks ahead to times of material prosperity for Israel, then sternly warns, inspired by the Holy Spirit, not to forget God. “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’ ” (Deut. 8:17). We did this all ourselves. Thanks for nothing. Human nature trends toward ingratitude.