A fourth grade teacher I once had taught me that if I wanted to understand something I should try to think what its opposite was. That bit of wisdom helped, and it has served me well for many years. We understand what a thing is by understanding what it is not. That is, we define things by contrast and by comparison.
Nevertheless, this approach can lead to some confusing conclusions for one who is untrained in the art of analysis. For example, if you were to ask most people What is the opposite of love?” they would probably respond “Hate.”
Actually, hate is not the opposite of love. Love and hate are the two extremes of a similar emotion. They are the same, inasmuch as they are both intense feelings that need an object. Both emotions require a person, place, idea or thing to which the strong sentiment can be directed.
I know a better opposite for love, a better contrast: indifference. Indifference embodies no sentiment. It is capable of neither passion nor affection. Given the choice, I would rather have a person hate me than be indifferent to me. Given the choice, I would rather have a person be angry toward the gospel message than indifferent. Strong negative feelings at least provide for the possibility of change, but indifference locks and chains a door that has never been opened.
Soon we will celebrate our national holiday of Thanksgiving. Holidays are rituals of intensification, whereby we reaffirm certain feelings and remind ourselves of our commitments. Thanksgiving is designed to show our appreciation and love to the Creator who has provided for us. In order for us to be properly thankful it might help to define or analyze that quality of the soul we call “thankfulness.” Using my fourth grade teacher’s advice, we must then find the opposite of thankfulness. But what is it?
It is easy to assume that the lack of thankfulness is presumption. But like the superficial, inaccurate assumption that love and hate are opposite, this is not a proper comparison either. Even presumption involves acknowledgment of a relationship. Presumption is the unwarranted use of a person or situation as though the user deserved what was appropriated. The real opposite of thankfulness allows for no such acknowledgment. Therefore the proper opposite term, again, is indifference.
Even if we merely presume upon God, at least we acknowledge that he exists and that he is indeed, the Giver and Provider, albeit our presumption or lack of thankfulness indicates that we think we deserve what he gives us. Our indifference, on the other hand, is the true opposite of thankfulness. By indifference we declare that it does not matter whether or not there is a God, or whether or not he has provided anything.
In Stardust Memories, writer/producer/actor Woody Allen has one of his characters saying, “To you, I’m an atheist. To God, I’m the loyal opposition.” I think Allen is describing his own feelings there, and I think I know what he means about his relationship to God. I think that he acknowledges the fact that God does exist and that he does provide. Perhaps he just doesn’t like what God provides. Somehow, I think that if Woody Allen had been with the rest of the Israelites during the Exodus, he might have complained, “O.K., so we got rid of the manna, but now why do we have to have quail all the time? Would it hurt if we had a corned beef on rye, or a hamburger once in a while? And how about some mustard and pickles?”
I don’t know much about the nutritional value of quail or the nutritional value of manna, and I don’t think the wandering Israelites did either. They didn’t concern themselves much with packaging in those days. But if they had, I doubt that the packaging would have listed nutritional values. If the label on the packaging said anything, it probably would have said, “Directly from the hand of God—and if it’s good enough for him to send, it’s good enough for you to eat.”
Only a person who eats regularly and well learns to be picky about food. Those who don’t eat as regularly are never indifferent to food. They are usually thankful in direct proportion to their deprivation and hunger. People who are blessed with plenty are sometimes substantially less thankful.
Now I’ve been talking to God on a regular basis, and sometimes I try to give him a little advice. I have even rashly suggested to him at times that what we, his creatures, needed to make us appreciative was a universal famine and plague. I offered this as a suggestion more than once, pointing out how such conditions could raise the level of our awareness of his sovereignty and thus make the work of evangelism much easier. But if I understand his answer correctly, he seems to be saying that he loves people too much to allow that much pain and anguish, and already things in this lost creation are worse than he would have liked. God would rather be loved for who he is and appreciated for what he gives than cause a lot of distress. He does not force anyone to believe or to be thankful. I am glad that he runs things instead of me! He puts up with a great deal of indifference from his created beings.
The world’s indifference to God is a killer disease, and those who are afflicted are unaware of their perilous condition. They call high blood pressure the “silent killer.” But even then you often hear a scream before the person crumbles from a stroke or heart attack. Many are unable to perceive God’s love, and to me that sounds like a living death. The Bible defines it that way, too. It tells us that those who cannot perceive God’s love and salvation are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). That’s why we at Jews for Jesus feel so compelled to get out the message of God’s love and salvation in Yeshua. The world is spiritually starving and most people don’t even know it. They think that the diet God offers them is too bland. They don’t want God, they want excitement. They want to overdose on quail when what they need to sustain life is manna. And the manna, properly presented, need not be bland. Colossians 4:16 admonishes us as God’s servants to season the salvation message with salt. With his help we can certainly do that.
Much is said and written these days, especially at holiday time, about alleviating physical hunger in the world, and this is noble and right. How much more impelling should be our concern to bring Jesus, the Bread of Life, to a world that is dying of spiritual malnutrition?
I want you to enjoy your holiday, so don’t get too worried or too upset. I just want to remind you that it’s important to be thankful and loving. It’s also good to act upon your thankfulness because God has given you so much. I hope that God is sending you all the manna you need and just enough quail for your daily ration as you traverse the wilderness of your earthly pilgrimage. I hope you truly appreciate his provision. I trust you are not indifferent to it. Before you let yourself become indifferent to such a diet perhaps you had better think on Romans 1:21: “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
We who believe are not children of darkness, so if you need help in starting your thankfulness list, begin by thanking God that he has given you enough light to see what else he has given you.
Thankfulness is the recognition of grace. It is the acknowledgment that someone has given us something that was not due us. Whether the gift is of material value or merely a kindness, it shows that the giver knows who we are and what has meaning and value to us.
I remember the first real gift I ever gave. It was a birthday present for my mother that I had bought with my own money—a potato peeler that cost me a big $.15. At the time that was a lot for a nine-year-old who earned pennies for doing errands. The realization that I had done this all by myself made my mother smile. Years later I learned that flowers or a handkerchief or something more personal and less suggestive of kitchen drudgery might have been more appropriate, but my mother had been totally appreciative. She had been thrilled to have a son who wanted to do something nice for her on her birthday.
I think the heart of the Almighty is truly touched by our small tokens of love. He could create mountains of gold for his treasuries, but the widow’s mite means more to him than mountains of gold because it comes from a needy heart that says, “I love you, Lord. I trust you to take care of me. So, here…take this.” I think that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. It involves acknowledging God’s goodness and care by taking the occasion to say, “Father, I love you, I trust you. Here, take all that I have, and again—thanks!”