To many Americans, Thanksgiving is anything but. It is largely a day of feasting, football, and Santa Claus parades. God scarcely rates a few words of grace at the overladen table.

In genuinely Christian homes there is, one hopes, a more sacred and meaningful celebration. But even among the devout the concept of gratitude has been steadily eroding. The very word “thanks” has undergone change; now it is increasingly used to convey blame. “Thanks a lot,” we say, expressing mock gratitude or even resentment. “Thanks a lot, God,” thinks the bitter Christian confronted by adversity. Thanks-saying is not necessarily a sign of thanks-giving, especially as the habit of saying one thing and meaning another become more firmly entrenched among us.

The idea of thanksgiving has also been undermined by association with festivity, sentimentality, and pietistic veneer. Much of the sacredness has gone out of the celebration, and Christians are less and less aware that Thanksgiving is a deeply spiritual exercise. The biblical essence of Thanksgiving, unencumbered with social trappings, needs rediscovery—not only on one day in November but every day of the year.

As we become more and more sure that we know what is good for us and what is not, we find less and less to thank God for. But Thanksgiving has an underside many Christians have not seen. There is more to it, and more to be thankful for, than most of us think.

We all know we should be grateful for God himself, for creation and redemption, for the necessities of life that North Americans have in such abundance. But how many of us are truly thankful for things we have been able to avoid through God’s benevolent working in what we regard as circumstance? Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote,

An ...

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