We could probably write a what-I’m-grateful-list for each other.
It seems we all start out with that same basic list of thanksgiving: we are thankful for our family, our friends, good food, and our warm home. And our job and our car. Maybe a couple of other things, but most lists of gratitude include these—and they should. These are things we should be grateful for.
But what if we don’t have them? Is our gratitude at the Thanksgiving table this year dependent on the people around us, the food we eat, and the roof over our table?
The People of Puny Hope?
Christians are different from other people. Like the ancient Jewish leaders who sized up Peter’s bravado and his unlikely eloquence and remembered he had “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13), people around us should be able to tell that we are different because of Christ’s work in and on us. They should ask us, Peter later wrote, about the hope that is in us—sensing that there is an anchor in our lives beyond what other religions or messages have to offer.
Paul wrote to early believers about the unquestionable truth that Jesus did rise from the dead, and will one day raise us, too. Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to our faith; without them, Paul asked, what hope do we have? “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If all we can hope for is a good life here and now, we have a puny, pitiful hope.
It is striking how little other religions and belief systems have to offer in the way of hope. Leaders call for commitment and duty, obedience and sacrifice, but offer little assurance. You can only do your best and increase your odds of going to heaven, they say. Others insist there is nothing after this life anyway—only a state of non-existence—so there isn’t really much to hope for on that count.
Just “try harder,” they say. “Do better.” “Make up for your mistakes.”
Ideologies on the other end of the spectrum are no better: easy-believism, promising peace to those who haven’t surrendered to God and called on His mercy, can’t soothe the doubt and fear we feel huddled inside us: “You’re just as good as everyone else!” they say. We look around and aren’t comforted.
Even in Old Testament Judaism, God provided animal sacrifice as a way to absolve guilt from sin, but only temporarily. Not forever. Sin again, sacrifice again, over and over and over.
To a point.
Then All That Changed
In the Gospel, the reality of our really bad situation is never sugar-coated. We are told the truth, as hard as it is, and then shown the hope: We have hit the bottom of an ocean of guilt, sinking deeper into the unreachable canyons on the sea floor, drowned in our sin and past any hope of reaching the surface for a breath of air.
BUT. Jesus meets us there.
Through His sacrifice and His love that pursues us, He has provided a way out—a way up. Heaping grace upon grace on us.
The Son of God gave His life in our stead, taking our sinful record and blowing it to pieces while accounting His own spotless record to us. Paul tried to put the magnitude of this truth into words, tried to capture these blessings in a list of his own in Ephesians 1:
“every spiritual blessing” (v. 3)
“He chose us” (v. 4)
“adoption to Himself as sons” (v. 5)
“grace, with which He has blessed us” (v. 6)
“redemption…forgiveness…according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us” (v. 7-8)
Every spiritual blessing.
Our hope is so much more than bettering our life on earth, and we don’t need no pity. Perhaps another way of echoing Paul’s first-century words could bring it home: “If this Gospel is true, if these gifts are really ours, we are of all people the most to be grateful.”
A Deeper Gratitude
This Thanksgiving, we should be thankful for our families, our friends, our possessions and provisions, as undeserved gifts from a loving Father. But even if we have experience loss this year, or have less than we would like or even than we used to, or if our day-to-day life right now is cloudy with suffering we don’t understand and want to wish away, we know that the deepest truths and securities of our lives will never be lost or less than last year.
They are firm. Our Father—our Father!—loves us eternally and completely, forever and ever.
Even if our table is quiet this Thursday, our place in His family is for sure. Even if we feel the weight of life’s pressures, we know we will never again carry the weight of our sin. Even if none of our plans for this year have happened like we thought, or our relationships are strained, or our bank account is shaky, our eternal hope is secure. We are of all people most to be grateful.