Our 16th President was more than just the Great Emancipator, but perhaps our best presidential theologian. On March 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for a National Day of Prayer and Fasting. Consider the weight of his words in the midst of our nation’s Civil War.
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven…but, we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings where produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own…It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Lincoln precisely diagnosed the true source of national ill-health being thankless and proud hearts, rather than disparate political opinions. For Lincoln, the only remedy to such ingratitude was corporate repentance-something we ourselves might consider today. Perhaps, Lincoln was only underscoring what the Apostle Paul declared in his indictment on unbelief and its consequences in the first chapter of his epistle to the believers in Rome:
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:20–21, NASB95)
After establishing that God has revealed his essential nature to all mankind through creation in unmistakable and inexcusable ways, he then explains with clarity the core issue within the foolish heart of man- “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” It appears that Paul provides an answer the question theologians have speculated upon for centuries; what is man’s original sin? Could it be that ingratitude born of a failure to remember God as the very source of all good is the very root sin which led Adam and Eve to trust the word of the serpent over the word of God? Perhaps it was their thanklessness hearts which left them entirely too susceptible to believing the lie that God was withholding something from them rather than richly providing for all their needs. Clearly to honor God is to humbly recognize His good gifts, His gracious hand and His benevolent care. To fail to do so reflects the depth of our forgetfulness and fallenness as human beings. Perhaps then, it is gratitude or ingratitude which establish the opposite poles of man’s relationship with God. Those who know Him, truly thank Him. Those who do not, imagine in their foolishness, that they themselves are their source of what they enjoy.
So this thanksgiving, let us take to heart both Lincoln and Paul. Let us remember that when we honor God and give thanks- we are doing more than tipping our hat to God in some obligatory act once a year. In reality we are expressing what all redeemed hearts know to be true – that God is the singular source of all goodness, and that apart from the magnificence of his kindness and grace, we would not just have less, but be eternally lost. This recognition should cause us to “overflow with thanksgiving” as Paul says in Colossians 2:7. Even as we face the ongoing uncertainty and fear that a microscopic virus has brought to our world, let us hold fast to the assurance that God has never ceased to be good precisely because in Jesus, His beloved Son, the goodness of God was incarnated before us and given for us. Thus, as Al Mohler said, thanksgiving is a deeply theological act. It is the act which sets us apart from a people who know thanksgiving as only a sentiment. We can experience a true thanksgiving because we know more than just the tangible blessings, but the Blesser Himself. May we never forget God, but honor and thank Him as long as he gives us breath to do so!
Vice President of College Relations
Dean of Students