And this is not the same thing as sincerity. People can be sincerely wrong. Lies can become so ingrained, so repeated, so believed that people say them and believe them sincerely. So it is that sincerity becomes the substitute for the truth in a world gone mad with hypocrisy and flattery. But truth is not the feeling of truthfulness or the intention of truthfulness. Truth is truth all the way down. It’s truth in the inward parts; it’s truth grounded in reality, the way things really are.
Gratitude requires this kind of truth. Otherwise, gratitude is just another form of relativism. Gratitude points at something, holds something, tastes something and gives thanks for that thing, for that flavor, for that gift. But giving thanks for nothing in particular or for the feelings conjured inside your head or gut is only sentimentalism and doesn’t need anything out there in the real world for it to occur. And so we’re left with thankfulness being a personal, subjective feeling that may come and go, that can be set off by anything or nothing. It doesn’t need a reality or even anything good or true to come into being, and therefore it really is only as deep as your feelings — which come and go and flipflop and meander.
But Christian gratitude is grounded in reality, in what is true both in my heart and out there in the world. It’s certainly true that our different and varied experiences color our appreciations, our tastes, our loves, but our varied experiences do not overwhelm reality. They do not displace reality — thank God. Despite our circumstances, our stories, God is still God, the world is still the world, and what is objectively good is still objectively gift.
So when we give thanks, we are giving thanks not merely for the feeling of thankfulness, we are giving thanks for what is true. We are pointing out into the world and claiming that this thing, this turkey, this table, this home, this family, these children, these neighbors and friends are real and that they are true gifts from a true Giver. We are saying that they exist, and we are saying that they exist by grace. And when we say thank you, we are trying to say this all the way down.
The corollary of all of this of course is that we cannot give thanks for what is not true. We cannot give thanks for evil — in the sense that we cannot affirm it. We cannot call evil good or good evil and celebrate that. Because that is a lie. We cannot give thanks for an adulterous relationship, for fornication, for drunkenness, for theft, for envy, for bitterness. They are all lies about what is true and good and beautiful. Of course, God in His kindness gives hardships and difficulties, and we can and we must give thanks in all things. But we do not give thanks for disorder and perversion in the world, we give thanks to the Lord who overrules and triumphs with His goodness through the disorder and rebellion of sinful men in a fallen world. And we are able to give thanks for these things in this way because it is true.
So this is the leaven of the gospel, the leaven of sincerity and truth — truth that goes all the way down. And this is true gratitude, true thankfulness — joy that delights in the wine and the laughter and the candles and the pies but it delights in them precisely because they are real, because they are true and good gifts from a Good and Faithful Giver, the One in whom there is no shadow of turning, the One from whom every good and perfect gifts come down from above.
This is why we confess our sins. This is why we forgive quickly and gladly. This is why we sing at the top of our lungs. This is why we love all men in the truth. This is why we make toasts. This is why we tell jokes. This is why we give thanks. Because the truth is like gravity, and despite the madness of sinful men, everything really does come down. Do not fear the claims of madmen. Do not cower at the officious rulings of the wicked. Our God is in heaven, and Jesus is at His right hand. All things have been delivered into His hands; He is there interceding for us. And He must rule until all of His enemies have been put beneath His feet. This is the truth, the truth that sets all men free. Lift a glass (lift two, since you have two hands), and give thanks. This is the gratitude that overcomes the world.