Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 27, 2010

Perspectives: A week of thanks, but to whom?

What are you thankful for?

This is a week in which we traditionally say "thank you."

Thank you to whom? For what?

A recent Pub Theology discussion centered on whether gratitude requires an object, that is, one to whom one is grateful. Can you be grateful in general? Or does your gratitude necessarily require or imply a recipient?

It is a decent question — for the person of faith, the answer is, "I'm grateful to God."

But what if you're not sure God is there? Or you're quite sure he isn't?

Can you just be thankful?

When someone serves me a meal, I am grateful to that person for the thoughtfulness and the work they put in to preparing and serving the meal.

When the sun shines, I'm grateful for the sun — but do I need to also give thanks to the sun? That seems a bit silly, as the sun is just a big ball of gas, yet without it, life would not exist on our planet. My preference is to be grateful for the sun, and to give thanks to the one who created it. For those for whom the sun needs no creator, I suppose you could be thankful to the universe, and be equally as grateful (though for me that seems to feel somewhat lacking).

For me, when I look at all the blessings in my life, it is hard to believe that it is all random, or how things just happened to turn out. Yet someone could surely challenge this by saying, "So you believe that there is a divine purpose or hand in your blessings — fine, but is not that same hand involved in the lives of those who are destitute, those almost entirely deprived of blessings in this life? What about them? Think of those who are dying of starvation, who are innocent victims in war, those for whom our single meal at Thanksgiving represents more food than they will see in a year?"

OK. Those are good questions. Questions to wrestle with and ponder. I don't have that whole thing figured out. But in the meantime, it seems to me that the same God who has given me blessings has also given me a charge to "do unto others as I would have them do to me" and to clothe the hungry and feed the poor, for "whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me." Even as I give thanks for my blessings, I am to be keenly aware of the ways in which I can allow those blessings to be shared by those around me.

I hope that whether or not your gratitude has an object this week you still have opportunity to look around your life, give thanks and be grateful. I am thankful for a loving wife, four healthy children, good friends, a supportive faith community, a place to live, a forum like Pub Theology where we can wrestle with such questions, and for much, much more.

These blessings are overwhelming, and for my part, I choose to give thanks to God. You may well do the same, but if not, perhaps you¹d still agree with Meister Eckhart, the German theologian and mystic, who said, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'Thank you,' that would be enough."

Bryan Berghoef is pastor of The Watershed Church and facilitator of a weekly Pub Theology group.

For past Perspective columns, written by area religious leaders, log on to

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