Thanksgiving Exposes the Truth About Atheists and Me

Nov 27, 2019 by David Fowler

G.K. Chesterton once said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” What I have come to realize in celebrating Thanksgiving this year is that atheists have no reason to be thankful, and my understanding of thanksgiving (with a lowercase “T”) has really been shallow and superficial.

Why Atheists Can’t Be Thankful and Be True to Atheism

The atheist who denies the existence of any God (or the person who just lives like God is irrelevant) is left with a mechanistic universe, which is what Darwinian evolution means; natural life, and human life that is a part of it, is simply a long chain of cause and effect.

So, someone does something nice for the atheist, for which he or she says, “Thank you.” But there really is no cause for thanks. Something—who knows what—simply acted upon the atheist’s benefactor, and that is what caused him or her to do the nice thing. You don’t thank someone for that which they were compelled by some antecedent cause to do.

The atheist’s “thanks” to the present benefactor has to be simply the result—the effect—of some unthinking and unreasoning antecedent cause acting on the atheist.

Or, perhaps saying, “Thank you,” is an evolutionary response developed as a survival mechanism; it makes it less likely that others will kill the atheist for being such an arrogant, self-absorbed “selfish gene,” the type of thing atheist Richard Dawkins promotes.

As Chesterton also said, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”

So, thanksgiving exposes the hypocrisy of the atheist. But what about me?

The Shallowness of My Thankfulness

As I said last week, I could always thank God that things aren’t worse. But that’s really like the backhanded compliment I got from one of my former Senate colleagues who came by my desk the morning of my last day in the Senate and said to me, “You don’t look as bad in bow ties as most people do.”

I won’t get into what provoked this senator’s comment in the first place, but when it comes to God and thankfulness to Him, I have been, at heart, not that much different—rather superficial and shallow.

Thankfulness is an attitude of the heart, and when I’m honest with myself (and before God), I know my personal history is littered with not just examples of ungratefulness, but murmuring and complaining. That, not outward acts of civility toward others, reveals the attitude of my heart.

God gently (thankfully!) began to confront me with this question: Why do I murmur and complain so much if I say I believe in a transcendent God who loves me even though He knows everything about me, even down to the number of hairs on my head?

For me it boiled down to one reason: I really didn’t believe, deep down, that God is really good, at least not all the time.

I know that assessment of myself sounds harsh, but if God really is my Heavenly Father and is really good all the time, then He not only knows when I am able to handle prosperity and not lose a thankful heart that acknowledges that all good things come from Him, but He also knows when I need adversity to turn my heart back to Him.

To the untrained ear1,  that latter statement makes God seem egotistical, and such an act would be if I were to try to get my wife or daughter to love me and thank me by withholding something good from them. It would also be manipulation.

However, when done by Him who is good all the time, is it not good of Him to make sure I don’t miss or lose a relationship that could endure for eternity with one whose very being is good, an unchanging good, for something temporal and fleeting? Yes, that is love.

God Is the ‘Hound of Heaven’

I remember my Dad reading to me the poem “The Hound of Heaven,” in which God, like the hound who is relentless in the hunt, is relentless in His pursuit of a relationship with a young man.

The first verses set the context. They portray a young man going through the days and years of life, with its twists and turns, tears and laughter, heights and depths, all the while fleeing from the God who pursues him, who is whispering in his ear, “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

Then the youth comes to the end of his days, with this as his sad, lamentable summation:

Grimed with smears, I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.

God now whispers this to him,

All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.

With this last word from God comes this realization by the old man:

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?

What I take from the poem is this: The more I realize that God really is my Heavenly Father because He has given Himself to me in Christ Jesus, and the more I remember that this is the ultimate proof of the Father’s goodness toward me, the less I find myself murmuring and complaining, and the more I find myself saying with Asaph, the psalmist, “for me it is good to be near God” (Psalm 73:28, ESV).

I have a long way to go in this regard, but when my heart and mind learn to find their contentment there, thankfulness can fill my heart, regardless of my situation or what “others” have done “to me,” for in them all it is really only God beckoning me to draw nearer to Him who is my real and eternal good.

1. My ear had heard of the loving discipline of the Lord (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75; Hebrews 12:6, 10), but my heart was dull to hear because I did not understand God’s providence, which was also for me a concept without any real depth of practical, applied meaning.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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