An Argument from Gratitude

Thankfulness as an Apologetic


This article is published with the expressed permission of Ligonier Ministries. Copyright 2001. It is not lawful to reproduce this without their expressed written permission.


by Douglas Wilson

Students of apologetics are familiar with some of the traditional arguments for the existence of God: the telological 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 refues to do two basic things: He refuese 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 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 on 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 on 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 tasted. 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 wondrs. Christians routinely thank God for the food, but we need to remember to thank Him for taste.

When we hold up our hands to look at them, we should be appropriately astonished at the engineering that went into them. What would it take for our scientists to make an artificial hand that could grow callouses for playing the gutar? And just like the acorn make a oak 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, 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, 1s, and 0s. This typing will soon be sent (via wires and optical cables) to the good folks at Ligonier Ministries in Florida. They will have it printed in Ohio 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. Who was the one 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 don't have much space left). Music is wonderfully varied as food -- jazz, blues, psalms, and chants. You see, if you stretch a string really tight and pluck it, it vibrates these two little bones in my head, and I hear things. When I hold a musical instrument in my hands, who 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. Every 10 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.



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