". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


It’s Okay to Be Thankful

November 22, 2023

Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. This was two years after the start of the Civil War, fought in large part to decide the question of whether it was ever right for one man to own another. Despite the obvious inhumanity of slavery, many argued it would not be possible to have a functioning economy without access to the free labor of other men. So we fought to determine whether we as a nation are defined by our belief that all men are created equal or by our belief that some are more equal than others.

The war would not end for two more years and would eventually cost more than 620,000 American lives, between 2-3% of the entire population of the country. It would be like losing seven million Americans today.

The war pitted countrymen, and in some cases families, against each other. It destroyed lives and cities, and crippled industries. For those who survived, the losses and horrors of battle left psychological scars that in significant ways remain.

So it was, in the midst of our nation’s darkest moment, that President Lincoln declared, “The year that is drawing to a close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

It almost seems insensitive. Does he not know that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere? Did he forget the nation was at war? No. To the contrary, he thought it was necessary to be thankful despite the conflict. “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity … peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict.” He continued. “Population has steadily increased…and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

Then Lincoln encouraged the nation to remember where blessings, even during great challenge, came from. “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” Lincoln was reminding the nation that God’s mercy and God’s wrath could be experienced simultaneously. This was something to be thankful for.

Today we are in different kind of civil war. Mercifully, this war is being fought on the internet and in legislative chambers rather than on battlefields, but that does not diminish the gravity of the conflict.

For many Americans, gratitude does not come easily. That could be because you cannot abide the widespread belief that a mother can kill her child if that child is inconvenient and unable to object. Despite the apparent inhumanity, many argue there would be crippling economic impacts if women were not guaranteed the right to dispose of inconvenient children.

But others object to a day of Thanksgiving for different reasons. They see Thanksgiving, not as a reminder of God’s provision, but as a reminder of Europe’s oppression of the natives in North America. They believe gratitude itself is a tool of oppression because it discourages the kind of resistance that is necessary to correct systemic injustice. Thanksgiving, they believe, will only be appropriate when the wrongs have been righted.

Whatever the case, maybe Lincoln was right all along. Maybe he understood why the Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, said, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” After all, if we wait for everything to be perfect before we are thankful, we’ll be waiting forever. Maybe we should pause and give thanks because it’s good for us. Maybe we should choose to be thankful. Maybe we should give thanks, as Lincoln did, not because everything is perfect but because we understand how much worse it could be.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council.