The cultural mind ...

An Argument from Gratitude

Douglas Wilson        

It should astound us that we are not more grateful than we are.

Douglas Wilson
            Douglas Wilson

Students of apologetics are familiar with some of the traditional arguments for the existence of God:  the teleological argument from design, the cosmological argument from first cause, and so on.  I would like to suggest another one.  I do not really know what to call it, but the argument is directed against one of the principal points of rebellion the non-believer has established for himself.  The apostle Paul tells us that man apart from Christ refuses to do two basic things:  He refuses to honor God as God and he refuses to give Him thanks (Rom. 1:21).  Consequently, it seems that in our crusade against this twin-towered citadel of unbelief, we should aim our artillery at these towers.

An argument from gratitude works on two levels.  On the first, the structure of the argument is simple enough, and is similar in form to some of the other arguments.  I have been given innumerable blessings.  Finding myself in possession of them, I have an ethical responsibility to say "Thank you."  But to whom?  If I am the end product of atoms careening through a mindless universe, there is no one to whom I may show my gratitude, and yet my ethical need to be grateful is genuine.  Therefore, there is a God, and I thank Him for the green hills I saw yesterday.

But the second level of the argument is where the real authority is.  This argument requires more than simple references to gratitude.  The one presenting the argument must himself be overflowing with gratitude, and standing in the overflow.  This powerfully presents that living attitude that Paul tells us the unbeliever is doing his utmost to avoid — true thanksgiving.  Thus, the argument has not only a logical structure but an aroma.  For the one being drawn to faith in God, that aroma is the smell of life.  For those who want to continue in hatred of God, it is the aroma of death.

When we consider the heavens and the earth beneath our feet, it should astound us that we are not more grateful than we are.  Consider the lowly acorn.  Think for a moment how an oak tree grows and where it gets the carbon to make the tree.  Honestly, the acorn is an ingenious device to make an oak tree out of air.  Who thought of this, and where can we thank Him?

When we see that God has decided to give us another day of life, we should be filled with thanksgiving.  When it becomes apparent that the food on the table is still there after we open our eyes from saying grace, we should close them again to thank Him again.  And not only do we get nourishment from food, but God has added the wonderful blessing of taste.  All food could have the consistency and taste of cold porridge, but God has given us, among other things, barbecue sauce, citrus, blackened chicken, onions, sweet corn, red wine, cheeseburgers with bacon, and countless other sensation wonders.  Christians routinely thank God for the food, but we need to remember to thank Him for taste.

Every 10 minutes that go by without proper thanksgiving leave us increasingly guilty.  

Every Monarch butterfly in the world leaves home to fly to a place in Mexico for a butterfly reunion every year.  On the way back it reproduces and dies.  Monarch Jr. continues the trek back home to Iowa, or wherever, and then, when the time comes, heads off to Mexico again.  Do we not have a pressing obligation to thank somebody?

When we hold up our hands to look at them, we should be appropriately astonished at the engineering that went into them.  How do they work like that?  What would it take for our scientists to make an artificial hand that could grow callouses when needed for playing the guitar?  And just like the acorn making oaks out of air, God created a system whereby my adult hands were made, over the course of my boyhood, out of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk.  And the engineering genius is not limited to one part of the body – consider the liver, the ankle, the neck, and a pair of eyes with the eyebrows thrown in.  And lovemaking!  What's with that?

Language is another thing.  Here I am, at a keyboard in Idaho, typing words into a processing device made (the authorities tell me) out of an interesting combination of beach sand and ones and zeros.  This typing will soon be shipped off (via wires and optical cable) to the good folks at Ligonier in Florida.  They will have it printed, and you will receive your magazine in the mail, and when you read that word magazine I just wrote, you will think about the same thing I was thinking about when I wrote it.  But my thoughts are just neuron firings in my head, then they were ones and zeros, then they were neuron firings in an editor's head, then they were ink on a page with no powers of material causation, and then they were neuron firings in your head.  And they are the same ones as mine!  Who thought of all this?  It wasn't me.  Shouldn’t we thank somebody?

Then there is music, along with the rest of the universe, but I do not have too much space left.  Music is as wonderfully varied as our food is – jazz, blues, psalms, chants, and cantatas.  You see, if you stretch a string really tight, and pluck it, it vibrates these two little tiny bones in my head, and I hear things.  These notes I hear can be combined in different ways, both over time making melody, and at the same time making harmony.  When I hold a musical instrument in my hands, whom should I thank?

It should be evident by now that if we do not know who He is, we must drop everything in order to find out who He is.  Every ten minutes that go by without proper thanksgiving leave us increasingly guilty -- rude, churlish, and impudent.  And when we do find out how to approach Him through worship, this leaves us needing to thank Him for our salvation.  But that is another subject that could fill the world, and will, in the years to come.


This item appeared in Tabletalk Magazine, November 2001
Douglas Wilson is the pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Ida.


Additional Resources

Blog & Mablog — Blog site for Douglas Wilson; reformed theology and current events.

Curling Up Under the Blanket — Because of the theological and philosophical malpractice of our Christian leaders, we are now discovering that our leaders have been quietly emptying out the church’s arsenals and armories for the last half century.

None Righteous — Nothing is more perilous than for an unrighteous person to rest his future hope in an illusion.

Worship of the Self — God never establishes Himself as an individual's Father without giving that person countless brothers and sisters.


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