Subject Thanksgiving Object

Grammatically, this makes sense.  But it’s easily reduced to simply subject thanksgiving, or more colloquially, subject give thanks.

This is the essence of Thanksgiving.  You or I giving thanks to someone.  It’s personal, you know.  I don’t thank the traffic light for changing color.  I don’t thank the computer for powering on.  We may do this inadvertently sometimes – thanking an object rather than a person – but we tend to catch ourselves a bit sheepishly, or at least realize that what we just did makes absolutely zero sense.  We don’t thank things, we thank persons.  We are grateful for some level of will or intentionality which require a personal source.

People like to short-cut this these days.  They give thanks to the universe.  But the universe is impersonal.  The universe is a thing, not a person.  To make the universe into a person would create an entity that bears a passing resemblance to God, and God is generally the one person someone thanking the universe is pointedly trying to ignore or deny.  Either the universe is impersonal and therefore a completely inappropriate object for our gratitude, or the universe is personal and now we have a higher entity on our hands which might possibly entail divinity.

Thanks requires someone capable of recognizing what they have received and acknowledging the person who gave it to them.  We might short-cut this by thanking our parents for everything, since without them we wouldn’t be here.  But they aren’t really a final source.  They’re an intermediate source of our blessings.  They didn’t give us everything, and more importantly, they received from their parents, who in turn received fro their parents, and so on and so on.  We live in a causal universe.  Everything and everyone we see is in a cause and effect relationship with what comes after and before.  In a technical sense, thanks can never stop with any one person in the universe but at some level must involve literally millions or billions of other people around and before them, each of which is also inadequate on their own to receive our thanks.

Philosophers and rational folks of varying other vocations and hobbies tend to agree that there has to be a starting point for this causal universe we find ourselves in.  It makes no sense to assume that there is a never-ending cause and effect relationship that extends out infinitely in both directions.   The Big Bang (or God’s creation of the universe) are both explanations for the fact that our universe – as close as our observations (and God’s revelation) can tell us – has a definite beginning.  Some would argue that this is merely the latest in an endless cycle of universal explosions and contractions, but it begs the question of where it all began.  Something had to start the cycle, right?  In other words, why this, rather than nothing?

For the Christian, Thanksgiving may start with the immediate things and persons around us, but always and ultimately leads back to the source of all things and all persons, God himself.  God is personal.  God acts with will and intentionality and thus is an appropriate object of our Thanksgiving.  He receives it.  It is appropriate to offer it.

It acknowledges that the in the ultimate analysis, God is the primal subject, and we are his objects.  He bestows us with existence and provides the materials both animate and inanimate necessary to our life.  We as subjects give thanks to God as the object because we are in reality the objects designed to give thanks and praise to God the one and only eternal – and personal – subject.

I’d argue that in the fullest and most consistent sense of the word, only theists can give thanks fully and rightfully because there is a personal object to direct the thanks to who is also the subject by which we are made capable of giving thanks.  This isn’t possible – in the fullest sense of the word – for a non-theist.  At best, they can be happy or relieved that they happen to be here, but there is no personal source of that momentary reality to give thanks to in an ultimate sense.  And for those who believe in some sort of impersonal source of reality (Buddhists, Hindus, etc.) there is no point in giving thanks either.  Either you view existence as a big mistake in the first place, which hardly seems reasonable to give thanks for no matter how nice your life looks to someone else, or you, like the non-theist, can be thankful for an arbitrary set of circumstances in your existence that had no prior intention or active causation.

Thanksgiving is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition and understanding of reality and God.  We can give thanks in the fullest and most complete sense, and therefore in the most proper and reasonable way.  We give thanks to the Creator of the Universe, the author of our existence, and the one who has promised to us life in and with Him in a personal way.  We aren’t simply enjoying a passing notion of reality or existence.  We are participating in something meaningful which shapes who we are for eternity.

Heady stuff to enter into whatever traditions your Thanksgiving entails.  But give thanks, by all means.  To the God who created you and created everything and everyone in your life that you are remembering with gratitude, from the dearly departed relatives of our childhood to the dearly departed turkey we’re about to ea.




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