There is heartbreaking irony in basting my seventeen pound herb roasted turkey and leafing through a publication from Compassion International with it’s images of poverty on high resolution glossy paper. What I spend on a few packs of stationary and face wash on a Target run would support a single mama and her babies on the other side of town enough to put me to shame. The thanks I owe God for my living circumstances is painfully obvious and wildly privileged.
What a tricky thing to give thanks to God for our country these days. Such redemptive work He is doing in the midst of a history of both soaring victory and also wicked oppression. Friends on both sides of the political conversation indignant about the state of our union. Being of diplomatic mind, I see both sides of the coin, both ends of the pendulum swing. My two grandfathers, honorable and good men, fought in World War II. I live squarely situated in the freedom given me by those who defend peace. I benefit from almost every privilege granted to me by winning the birth lottery – born in America, raised in a family and community and education system I did nothing to earn or choose. I worship loudly and publicly the God I love, when worldwide this isn’t always the norm. I live in the barefaced blessing of America.
Yet what a cluster bomb of political turmoil, racial tension, widespread generational poverty, and systemic oppression of the day, not to mention the deplorable chapters behind us. (I’m just preparing you for your awkward Thanksgiving table conversation, guys. Its awful, but real.) I can thank God for the opportunities I was afforded here in America; those aren’t availed to all people. Even just understanding this Turkey day celebrating, thank God for Squanto who saved the Pilgrim’s necks by giving them an agricultural crash course before they all died off. I had no idea until reading to my daughter that an Englishman, Captain Thomas Hunt, had captured and sold him in the slave market in Spain before Squanto met the Pilgrims. How can I offer thanks and not overlook these realities?
So what to make of this dilemma? No thanks to God for America or God bless America? I’ve tossed this conundrum around with God and a few people, hoping for a handful of clear-cut bullet points to offer. Instead, God widened my gaze…
One of my dear friends, Liz, loves both history and the Bible (so much so that she’s getting her PhD in it.) Her thoughts are beautifully broad when it comes to how the United States fits into the narrative of time and scripture. If I can pull my vision back from both the victory and dark chapters of our nation’s history, I see that God has always raised up and cast down nations. Liz often laments the grievous position while reminding me, “There nothing new under the sun.”
Even my daughter, while listening to her audio Story of the World from her booster seat in the van, chimes in “Mama, the people in history are not kind to each other.” I don’t say this to abdicate pursuing justice, but to see the meta narrative of scripture and history: humans are totally depraved.
In exposing truth from Deuteronomy 1 and 2 at a recent Navigator Conference, the International President Mutua Mahiaini exhorted us: “This is the story of God and His work more than Israel or Moses – do I look on my own history through my eyes and grow proud or discouraged or through His story of glory and redemption? If there is a spirit of heaviness, perhaps it is because I have moved into the center of my story, when God should have been there all along.”
Mr. Mahiaini spoke specifically to the history of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, but the applications are wide. God has written into His story kingdoms and governments that both uphold His ways and those that oppose His glory. Generations of both good and wicked kings of Israel and Judah, reformation and repentance awakened through King Josiah, exiled to enemy nations of Assyria and Babylon, oppressed by Roman rule. Scripture is loaded with history books both righteous and not. This is one of many reasons why Isaiah’s declaration of His coming kingdom is such good news,
“Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” Isaiah 9:7
And David sings, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” Psalm 145:13
So we can rest our souls on the Rock who sits forever on His throne.
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” Proverbs 21:1
And we can bend our knee in obedience that still He calls us to thank-filled living.
Over and over Paul calls the young bride of Christ to give thanks in his letters. Specifically, in all circumstances, because this is the will of God (1 Thessalonians 5:17), not because they lived either posh lives or under perfect earthly government, but because God delights in thanks.
The same is true today. God, not the history or modern state of America, is the Author of Thanksgiving. This gives richer motivation, in fact Christ is the very life blood and catalyst for us finding thanks, even for when and where He has situated us in America in 2017. His love compels us, and by our obedient and joyful thanks He is glorified.