Gratitude and Gluttony
A quick Google search shows me that an estimated 46 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving alone. One turkey for every seven people in the U.S. An estimated 59.6 billion dollars will be spent this Black Friday. $1,821.52 for every member of the population. A lot could be said about these numbers, but as we reflect on what giving thanks looks like (it is Thanksgiving after all), we should remember to whom we are giving thanks, and how that shapes our desires.
Enjoying Created Things
God created us as souls and bodies, with passions, needs, multiple senses, and the ability to rationally and emotionally enjoy creation. This is important. The history of humanity shows the struggle of not quite knowing what to do with creation. Some religions and philosophies try to escape the physical life, only admitting the most basic needs. Other religions and philosophies approach life as if it were an end it itself, and so entertainment, indulgence, satisfaction become the goal and aim in life. Both of these approaches are really two heads of the same coin because they both come from a fundamental misunderstanding of creation.
God created the world good, very good; this includes food, entertainment, and satisfaction. But because of our sinful desires (see James 1:14ff), we take those things and use them in sad and destructive ways. Part of the gospel is re-learning from God how to enjoy life properly. In a society obsessed with material things, we desperately need to listen closely to that good news.
Ordering Our Desires
If sin disorders our desires, the Gospel works in us to re-order them. God is the source of all happiness and goodness, and we were created to enjoy him for all eternity. God has given us the created world as a medium through which we enjoy his goodness.1 In John Calvin’s words, ‘all things given to us are given in order that we might know their author.’2 Everything given to us is given to us so that we might know God. When we use things in ways that draw our attention from him or put them in his place we rob ourselves of true happiness because we rob ourselves of God.
One of the best ways to keep us from abusing God’s good creation is gratitude. A heart that is responding in thankfulness to God for the kindness and grace that he shows to us in creation will see through the creation to the Creator, and therefore really enjoy the creation. Through gratitude ‘desire is bridled.’ Calvin says,
But how can we be thankful if we drink and indulge in wine so much that we become dazed– unable to perform the duties of piety to which we are called? How can we know God if our flesh, boiling over from overindulgence of our base desires, so infects our minds with its corruption that we cannot discern what’s right or honorable? How can there be thankfulness to God for clothing if, on the basis of our fancy and expensive clothes, we both admire ourselves and look down on others? Or if we let elegance and style open a door to sexual immorality? How can there be acknowledgment of God if our minds are enchanted by the splendor of His gifts.3
Thankfulness keeps the eyes on the giver and frees us from making the gift into something that it is not; thankfulness rejoices in a God who freely and bountifully gives good gifts to his creation. True gratitude never leads to gluttony. Giving thanks to God, it turns out, is a revolutionary act.
- Augustine says, ‘Therefore, among all these things only those are to be enjoyed which we have described as being eternal and immutable; others are to be used so that we may be able to enjoy those.’ On Christian Doctrine, 18.
- John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life, 117.