Culture At Large

How to Not Give Thanks Like the Rich Man in Luke 12

Nathan Bierma

I've always thought of Thanksgiving as a day to count my blessings, to take an inventory (at least a partial one) of what I'm grateful for, to try not to take God's providence for granted. This year I'm wondering if there's a risk in blessing-counting, at least when those blessings are things. What if there is too little difference between an affluent Christian like me counting my possessions and the rich man in Luke 12, who counts his crops and barns and says, "Self, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry"? Isn't our current cultural practice of giving thanks on Thanksgiving dangerously close to this kind of validation of affluence?

My views toward material possessions are complicated. On the one hand, I do believe that we can—we must—give thanks for our possessions (houses, cars, computers, and on and on) as gifts from God. Making and using material goods is one way human beings respond to the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1:28. Not everyone is called to Franciscan-type vows of poverty. On the other hand, I believe material comforts are loaded with latent dangers; they can falsely feed our sense of self-worth, self-reliance, and self-indulgence. And I worry that North American Christians are far too eager to celebrate possessions as God's gifts without discerning deeply enough Christ's and the apostles' call to simplicity of lifestyle for the sake of mission. I also worry that we're too often numb to the way our society enables the hoarding of wealth and energy en route to pampered living for some at the expense of others. What is the best way to express gratitude for abundance in this toxic cultural climate?

This Thanksgiving, at least, I'll try to dial down the possession-listing and give my thanks-giving more of a spiritual edge. Here are a few ways I can think of; add more here.

  • the redeeming work of Christ. A chaplain at a Christian high school says that observing confession in Thanksgiving worship is one of the most meaningful ways to take the focus off our possessions and put it on what God has done in Christ.
  • the global scope of the church, which spans more cultures and languages than we can imagine, and especially the passion of believers living in societies mired in poverty and corruption.
  • the occasionally bitter witness of the psalmists and prophets, who model for us honesty and realism in prayer—rather than a monotonous cheeriness—and a holy longing for God's justice and the completion of the kingdom.
  • relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues— the best measure of "rich"-ness in life.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith