“[F]or he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” — Matthew 5:45b
Somehow we survive on this small blue planet, we fragile bipeds vulnerable to the elements, to disease, to time, and to each other. Logically, our lot is sustained misery, ended only by a merciful death. Yet mankind has done far more than survive. Our life experiences are a rich intermingling of joy and angst, satisfaction and boredom, love and suffering. We look back on our early years and we remember carefree, secure innocence. Centuries’ worth accumulated knowledge was ours to study. Next we loved, and married, and cherished children. We are paid well for skills that we are pleased to perform. And all this while we are nourished with good food, warmed with comfortable clothing, and aided when we are ill.
We’ve set apart this time of year to marvel at all this, to be grateful. If we’re grateful, we recognize that we’ve been given something. But by whom? It’s difficult to be genuinely thankful when we attribute our blessings to fate, to own efforts and virtues, or to a confluence of natural laws that allow one to prosper given the right conditions. Thankfulness only makes sense when our attention is directed past ourselves and beyond blind forces to something or Someone incomprehensibly vast, intelligent, and good. The majority of Americans assent to the idea of God, and if they give thanks, it is to Him. They are beneficiaries of His common grace that sends rain on the just and the unjust, that created man’s mind to be able to pry into the secrets of nature and cooperate with it, yielding unprecedented prosperity and longevity.
Christians believe in this good God who poured blessings on all mankind. Yet they place weighty, incredible claims on this basic concept. God gives specific graces as well as general, according to specific information about Himself that He communicated through Scripture. Not giving acknowledgement to God for His gifts, for instance, is a significant problem. This tendency we have for self-destructiveness, our antagonism toward others, our actions from pride and lust and greed, have also made us His enemies and deserve punishment. We credit ourselves with what belongs to Him, priding ourselves on our accomplishments and free thinking, while this holy, perfect being has proclaimed us blind and enslaved, lawbreakers to our core.
But in real time and in history, God intervened for us in Jesus Christ, who died on our behalf and rose again so that through faith in Him, we could live a new kind of life. In this act of specific grace, God provides to believing man every impossible thing He requires from him–death, resurrection, living right with God and neighbor–on the merits of Christ. The recipient of this gracious, magnificent work can only respond in utter humility and profound thankfulness.
“11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” — Titus 2:11-14