Perhaps we need a little more Thanksgiving and little less Black Friday to cure what is ailing our culture. Perhaps the best way to return God’s gift to our generations of unprecedented wealth and convenience is to focus on the “day of public humiliation and prayer,” as George Washington conceived the first national Thanksgiving, rather than the day of national indulgence.
As a nation, we may have turned away from God, but God sure has not turned away from us. Despite the infinite social and political problems in this country, God continues to bless us with an extraordinary level of bounty and prosperity that would shock our founding leaders, who believed their relative abundance showed a need for a national thanksgiving.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge noted in his annual Thanksgiving message, “An abundant prosperity has overspread the land.” He exhorted the nation to use the abundance to please the giver of that bounty and to lift our spiritual state to equal our physical one. “We shall do well to accept all these favors and bounties with a becoming humility, and dedicate them to the service of the righteous cause of the Giver of all good and perfect gifts,” wrote the quiet and humble 30th president. “As the nation has prospered let all the people show that they are worthy to prosper by rededicating America to the service of God and man.”
As we stand here today, nearly a century later, nobody would wish to live in that era, which Coolidge later referred to as one of “comfort” where “wealth is almost incalculable.” Most people didn’t even have the full bathroom amenities of hot piped water, a bathtub, shower, or a flush toilet in their homes, yet they were happy with their state of being. Why? Because as Coolidge observed in his 1928 Thanksgiving proclamation, the spiritual wealth of the nation grew commensurate with its physical wealth:
Our fields have been abundantly productive; our industries have flourished; our commerce has increased; wages have been lucrative, and comfort and contentment have followed the undisturbed pursuit of honest toil. As we have prospered in material things, so have we also grown and expanded in things spiritual. Through divine inspiration we have enlarged our charities and our missions; we have been imbued with high ideals which have operated for the benefit of the world and the promotion of the brotherhood of man through peace and good will.
Today, the opposite is true. As our spiritual wealth and healthy family life decline precipitously, God continues to bless us with unparalleled material wealth as a nation that makes the advances of the 1920s seem like a period of destitution and scarcity. Thus, any excuse we have for our troubles can certainly not be blamed on God’s open hand. We have every reason to succeed now as a nation, at least from a physical standpoint.
Even years before the era of Black Friday, where the most unfathomable high-tech comforts of life would become available at a cheap cost in a dizzying array of choices, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin taught us American abundance in a local Houston supermarket. On September 16, 1989, Boris Yeltsin made a high-profile visit to Houston’s Johnson Space Center. However, it wasn’t the amazing space technology that impressed him about America and crushed his will to continue pursuing communism in his home country. It was an unscheduled visit to Randall’s supermarket that shocked him, according to his autobiography.
Yeltsin, then a high-ranking Soviet official, reportedly “roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement” and told those around him that if Russian supermarkets looked like this, “there would be a revolution.” He later wrote of his experience: “When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people.”
What Yeltsin saw in just one local supermarket was a much a greater abundance than what was celebrated in the first Thanksgiving in 1621 – by a factor of a million.
The asymmetry between America and the rest of the world in terms of choices and abundance in food, cars, and other products is still evident today. In fact, even our homeless vagrant population in San Francisco has iPhones that they use to effectively barter goods, according to a recent report by the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald.
We have so much food in this country that we don’t know what to do with it. According to the USDA, farm output grew by 170 percent between 1948 and 2015, “even as the amount of labor and land (two major inputs) used in farming declined by about 75 percent and 24 percent, respectively.” Earlier this year, America’s dairy surplus reached a record high with 1.4 billion pounds of cheese. Last year, the USDA reported a 2.5 billion-pound surplus of meat.
More recently, we have witnessed the oil and natural gas miracle of America, as we become the global energy superpower. Contrary to the socialist principle of scarcity, God is constantly renewing the world, such that the more oil and gas we produce, the more we find. The U.S. has an estimated 310 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, more than Saudi Arabia, and the numbers keep growing every year. Those estimates have jumped over 30 percent in just a decade, even though we have already extracted over 30 billion barrels during that period.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that American crude oil production had hit an all-time record of 12.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in November. That is an astounding 43 percent increase in production in just three years. Our oil exports have grown 30-fold over the past five years.
We are also the global leader in natural gas production. The EIA predicts that U.S. liquified natural gas exports will increase 72 percent this year over last year’s impressive showing. In petroleum production combined with “other liquids” production, total U.S. production is projected to hit 20.73 million bpd during the fourth quarter of this year, according to the EIA. That is 67 percent and 83 percent more than Saudi Arabia and Russia respectively. Just seven years ago, those countries were producing more than us. Through 2040, the U.S. is expected to account for 75 percent of the global growth in oil production and 40 percent of the growth in natural gas.
Indeed, God’s blessings are growing faster than we can harvest them. However, His blessings are also growing faster than our spirits can use them for the good. The age-old story of spurning God when we are fat and happy was portended in the Bible – “Jeshurun[a] grew fat and kicked; filled with food, they became heavy and sleek. They abandoned the God who made them and rejected the Rock their Savior” (Deuteronomy 32:15).
That is the true lesson of Thanksgiving. It’s easy to turn to God in a time of need. After all, there are no atheists in a foxhole. What man struggles with most, however, is keeping God in his life during a time of bounty and prosperity. As the sagacious President Coolidge said in his 1923 Thanksgiving proclamation, “We have been a most blessed people. We ought to be a most thankful people.” Yet the number of people who don’t believe in God or don’t attend church has skyrocketed over the past decade. As such, many people don’t even know who to thank.
That we are so pampered with luxury and convenience has turned our society away from family and godly values and has reared an entire generation on unvarnished narcissism and selfishness. Moreover, as we remain personally wealthy and indulgent, we remain apathetic to the injustices around us in our broken political and legal system, like the citizens of Rome in the generations preceding its fall. We have let our guard down because we forgot we need a guard and we forgot that God is the ultimate granter of those comforts we take for granted.
Consequently, everything wrong with our society, culture, and government is not because of God’s punishment but because His immense blessings of divine providence, filtered through our corrupted souls, have turned into divine judgement. God has given us everything we could possibly want, but because our spirituality as a society has been attenuated, His very blessings from His just ways have been used for crooked and profligate purposes. As it says in Hosea 14:9, “Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”
As we thank God for our unfathomable level of physical abundance, we must remember that while only He can deliver material prosperity, only we can salvage our spiritual prosperity by returning His favors and turning back to Him and His ways. Thus, while we, as a civilization, thank God for His unparalleled blessings, we should oblige ourselves to be worthy of those blessings, lest his endless patience run out. As the wise President Coolidge once said, “If at any time our rewards have seemed meager, we should find our justification for Thanksgiving by carefully comparing what we have with what we deserve.” (For more from the author of “This Thanksgiving, Remember Who Grants the Blessings We Take for Granted” please click HERE)