If everything that exists, exists by chance, and thus has no purpose, how can anyone be grateful for anything if they believe that nothing has any purpose?

Written by Grover E. Gunn | Thursday, November 26, 2020 

What is so wonderful is that this great and good God is our Lord, the one whom we serve. In our service to Him, we glorify and enjoy Him. We glorify Him because He is our true joy in life, and we enjoy Him because He is truly glorious. We have a profound and significant reason for living. We have a purpose in life that both saturates each moment with significance and endures throughout our time on earth and into the life to come, never to end. For this we are most thankful.

As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, there are many in our culture today who do not possess the spirit of thanksgiving. They live in one of the richest and most generous societies in today’s world and in all of history, and yet their primary thought is that they deserve something better. They are practitioners of what is today called critical theory. This is a self-righteous technique for finding fault with everything, even with things that are intrinsically good.

We see the master of critical theory in the serpent in Genesis chapter three. The serpent found fault with paradise because in the midst of all the unspoiled abundance, there was one tree whose fruit God had forbidden, from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent said that God’s command against eating that fruit was merely a means that God was using to oppress Adam and Eve and to hold them back. The serpent said that God’s warning that Adam and Eve would die in the day that they ate the forbidden fruit was an outright lie. The truth, said the serpent, was that God knew that in the day that they ate that fruit, they would become like God and thus become divine themselves.

Tragically Adam and Eve accepted this first application of critical theory, and the result was that death and a curse descended upon the earth. If critical theory can be used to trash the pristine paradise of the Garden of Eden, then we should not be surprised that it can be used today to trash the good in our own less than perfect society.

The current popularity of critical theory is one reason why many today do not share our spirit of thanksgiving. A second reason has to do with our understanding of liberty. In America’s Declaration of Independence, the statement is made that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights given to us by God and rights that the civil government has no authority to deny or to take away. One of these inalienable rights is liberty.

The Declaration of Independence does not define liberty, and so liberty has been in practice defined over the years by our culture. Before the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the First Great Awakening had strongly affected the culture of our country. In the afterglow of that religious reformation, many understood liberty to be the political freedom to live a good life as God defines good.

Since that time, our culture has significantly departed from its Christian heritage. Over time, the prevailing understanding of freedom has changed. Now the prevailing belief is that freedom is the freedom for anyone to do anything that he pleases as long as no one else is hurt. Or, as Thomas Jefferson used to say, as long as the behavior does not pick someone’s pocket or break someone’s leg. With this understanding of freedom, immoral behavior has been increasingly tolerated in our society.

More recently, the change has gone even a step further. For some, it is no longer enough for society to tolerate immoral behavior. Society has to approve of it as well, to authenticate it, to acknowledge its claimed rightness and goodness. And any action that even implies any disapproval is considered a form of aggressive violence that must be prohibited. That is why some today will bring criminal charges against, for example, a baker who declines to put on top of a cake a message that endorses some behavior which the baker regards as immoral. We have some in America today who do not share the spirit of thanksgiving because not everyone in America approves of their behavior, behavior which the culture at large not that long ago considered immoral.

A third reason why some today do not share the spirit of thanksgiving is an idea that goes back to a seventeenth century French thinker named Rousseau. In his autobiography, Rousseau openly revealed many of his sins and transgressions. Yet Rousseau claimed that he was born a morally pure person. The problem, he claimed, was that he had been corrupted by society. The problem was not with him, but with the civilization in which he lived.

We see this attitude today when some always regard the criminal as the innocent victim of society. The criminal is always in their eyes the morally pure person who has been corrupted by an evil environment. And the answer to the problem of crime is always seen as spending more on programs to improve the environment because the environment is solely where the evil lies. How can a person be grateful when he believes that none of his faults are really his faults, when he believes that all of his faults are really the fault of the society in which he lives?

A fourth reason why some are not thankful today can be traced back to the book “Origin of Species,” published by Charles Darwin in 1859. In his book, Darwin argued that everything that exists, exists strictly by chance. The explanation for everything is time and chance. Given enough time, anything can happen, even the complexities of biological life. Assuming then that everything that has happened, has happened strictly accidentally, then there is no purpose in anything. And if there is no purpose in anything, then there is really no reason to give thanks for anything.

We know today that biological life is far more complex than Darwin ever imagined it to be and far too complex to have happened by chance, even over long ages, no matter how long they might last. The odds against that happening are astronomical. It is a mathematical impossibility. In addition, we now know that too much of life’s basic structure is irreducibly complex.

Let me give you an example of what it means to be irreducibly complex. The common spring mouse trap is irreducibly complex. Take away any one of the elements in a spring mouse trap, and the result is not a mouse trap that doesn’t work quite as well. The result is a mouse trap that doesn’t work at all. The spring mouse trap is irreducibly complex, and so is life at the cellular level. The complex forms of cellular life are not merely better than simpler forms, they are absolutely necessary in all their complexity for life to exist at all. These complex forms of life didn’t evolve from simpler forms because simpler forms simply cannot fulfill the complex functions that we now know are necessary for life to exist.

We know this today, and yet many today still accept Darwin’s theory that everything that exists, exists by chance and thus has no purpose. How can someone be grateful for anything if they believe that nothing has any purpose?

A fifth reason why some are not thankful today is a theory promoted by a nineteenth German philosopher named Nietzsche. He taught that morality, one’s understanding of right and wrong, is based on nothing more than personal preference. For example, the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” is only a personal opinion that some people have and nothing more. He also taught that a system of morality such as the ten commandments is only a power game that the strong in society use to maintain their advantage over the weak in society. How can people today who believe that the ten commandments, the traditional foundation of our culture’s morality, are only a power game that the strong use to oppress the weak, how can they be thankful for anything about the society in which they live?

My sixth reason why some are not thankful today is the influence of Karl Marx, one of the key founders of communist ideology. He taught that if only we would get rid of private property, then all our problems would disappear. If only no one owned anything and instead everyone owned everything, then a new paradise on earth would miraculously materialize. Marx claimed that his theory was based on science, but really his theory was based on only a blind religious faith, a blind religious faith that many hold to today. How can someone be grateful if he truly believes that the only reason that he is not experiencing an unprecedented paradise on earth is because others are clinging to their right to possess private property?

Here is the summary: Some have a self-righteous obsession with finding fault with others, an obsession called critical theory; some believe that they cannot live authentic lives unless all members of society approve their immoral behavior; some believe that all their faults are the fault of the society in which they live; some believe that nothing that exists has any purpose for existing; some believe that morality is only a power game that the strong use to oppress the weak; and some believe that society’s allowing people to own private property is the only thing that is preventing the transformation of society into a new paradise on earth. How can people who believe such things share the spirit of thanksgiving since the spirit of thanksgiving goes against the very grain of such opinions and beliefs?

True Christianity doesn’t teach or believe such things, no matter how fashionable they may be in some circles. Believing such things would be conforming to the spirit of this world. Christians are under an obligation not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And we renew our minds by accepting the true explanation of reality that God has revealed to us in Scripture. And people who are being renewed in this way are a thankful people.

Psalm 8 teaches principles that lead us to true and lasting thanksgiving spirit. Why should we be thankful?

We should be thankful because we are privileged to serve a good and great God.

Our God is the great I AM. That is what is implied by the name LORD spelled with all capital letters. The living and true God always has been and always will be and will never change. For that reason, His word is dependable. We can trust Him. He has revealed Himself to us through this and other names, names that tell us about who He is and what He is like. We have learned from these revelations that He is excellent beyond description, excellent beyond words. He is uniquely superior to everything else, and thus He is the very height of splendor and majesty. He is ultimate truth, ultimate goodness and ultimate beauty. There is no one greater in all the earth, and there is no one more glorious even in the highest heavens where angels dwell and serve before the Throne.

Psalm 8 speaks of praise to God coming out of the mouths of young children. Often young children have a special candidness and objectivity because they have not yet learned how to suppress the obvious truth with any subtlety and craft. A powerful truth is powerful even when voiced by a weak and helpless child. When a little child praises God, there is strength and power in those words because they are true words and vitally significant words. God is so great that just the expression of the truth about Him defeats God’s enemies even if the heralds of that truth are little children.

What is so wonderful is that this great and good God is our Lord, the one whom we serve. In our service to Him, we glorify and enjoy Him. We glorify Him because He is our true joy in life, and we enjoy Him because He is truly glorious. We have a profound and significant reason for living. We have a purpose in life that both saturates each moment with significance and endures throughout our time on earth and into the life to come, never to end. For this we are most thankful.

We should be thankful for this wonderful world which God has created as our home.

Psalm 8 mentions the work of God’s fingers in the heavens, heavenly bodies such as the moon which rules the sky at night together with the stars. This is not even to mention the greater sun which rules the sky by day. These, too, reflect God’s glory because God has ordained them.

David was a shepherd in his youth. He probably spent many nights in the fields away from all artificial lights. The moon and the stars are so glorious in such a context. Many modern people seldom or never see such a sight away because of the artificial night lights that diminish the ability to see the splendor of the heavenly lights.

Yet with modern telescopes and space probes, we know more about the wonder of the heavens than David did. Do you realize how big the Milky Way is? The Milky Way is the galaxy that includes our solar system. If the Milky Way were reduced to the size of North America, then our entire solar system would be only as big as a coffee cup. That should give you some appreciation for how big the Milky Way is. And the Milky Way is only one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies in our universe. This is the creation which God has created as the work of His fingers.

We should be thankful because God created humanity in His very own image.

The psalmist asks the question why God pays such special attention to humanity when humanity is so weak and puny compared to the vast wonder of the universe. The reason that God is mindful of humanity and visits humanity is because God created humanity in His own image. That is the reason why humanity is the crown of God’s creation, the apex of God’s creation. No other creature other than humanity is created in God’s image.

Psalm 8:4 speaks of God creating humanity. Some translations say that God made humanity a little lower than the angels. What the text literally says is that God made humanity a little lower than Elohim. Elohim is the most common name for God found in the Hebrew Bible. It is a word in the Hebrew plural form, but it is used as a singular noun when applied to God. And this is by far the predominate meaning and use of the word. There are few verses where it can be interpreted as a possible reference to angels. I believe that our text is poetically restating the truth found in Genesis 1:26-28 that God created humanity in His own image, as a creaturely image of Himself. This wondrous distinction is the honor and glory with which God has crowned humanity.

Because God created humanity in His own image, humans have creaturely versions of some of God’s attributes. This is illustrate in question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

  1. What is God?
  2. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

God made humanity in His own image as creatures possessing being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. But only God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Humans as creatures are finite, time bound and changeable. And this difference affects the way in which we are images of God. We are creaturely images with creaturely versions of these attributes.

An image is also by definition not the original. As images, we have no right to define reality. As images, our duty is to reflect reality as God has defined it by thinking God’s thoughts after Him. We don’t originally define things. We study God’s Word and God’s creation to learn God’s definitions of things, to learn what reality really is as opposed to what we might imagine it to be.

Psalm 8:6-8 then says that God put this special creature made in God’s own image over all the other creatures on earth: domesticated animals, wild beasts, birds of the air and fish of the sea. God made humanity to rule under God and over all the other creatures on earth.

Psalm 8 is a poetic retelling of God’s creating humanity and giving humanity dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). The Psalm stops there and does not consider humanity’s fall into sin. When Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit and rebelled against their Creator and fell into sin, some really bad things happened. The image of God within them was morally distorted. They did not lose the image because to lose the image would be to cease to be human. As originally created, humanity’s moral orientation was toward glorifying God. After the fall, humanity’s moral orientation was toward glorifying self. This was the moral distortion of the image. And this sinful self-centeredness affected how humanity used humanity’s God given abilities. After the fall, humanity began using humanity’s special abilities in sinful ways for sinful purposes.

The Scripture provides a solution for humanity’s fall, and that is Jesus Christ. Psalm 8 says that God put all things under Adam’s feet. Adam forfeited this through sin, but the New Testament tells us the rest of the story that God has put all things under the feet of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (Psalm 110:1; I Corinthians 15:24-25). Through His life of perfect obedience, through His finished sacrifice on the cross and through His resurrection victory over death and the grave, Jesus has more than regained for the people of God all the privileges that are described in the eighth Psalm.

That brings us to the fourth reason for us to be thankful. Through His person and His saving work, Jesus has restored our relationship with this great and glorious God; Jesus has begun the work of restoring the image of God within us and Jesus will one day make this universe even more glorious than it was when God first created it (Revelation 21-22).

During Thanksgiving season, in fact, at all times, we should reject the spirit of the world and the spirit of the age, and give thanks to our God. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.

Dr. Grover Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of MacDonald PCA in Collins, MS.