In the Name...
There was a minister who always began his sermons with a prayer of thanksgiving. One day, however, there was a great snowstorm and only a few people made it to church. As they wondered what the minister would say, he got into the pulpit and began, "O God, we give Thee most humble and hearty thanks...that we don't have many mornings like this one!"
The story is told of a man who survived a terrible accident along a New Jersey road in the 1700’s. He had been driving his horse and trap along a bend and a section of the road beneath him suddenly slid off into a ravine. Sadly, his horse was killed in the fall, but, despite his injuries, the man survived and the first thing he did was go to the house of his pastor to offer thanks. The pastor heard the man’s story and said, “Let me join you in prayer for I have had an even more miraculous escape. I have travelled that same road a hundred times without any accident at all.”
The pastor was the Revd. John Witherspoon, the only clergyman among the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the man who convinced Jefferson that it should contain the words, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”
I think that both of these anecdotes remind us that we so often forget to give thanks in the ordinary circumstances of life. Like the man who survived the road accident, we tend to restrict our appreciation of the miraculous for the aftermath of some great misfortune or disaster. That is, people give thanks for surviving an earthquake or hurricane, but not for the fact that no earthquake or hurricane came last year or the twenty years previous. We give thanks for a successful operation, but not for the years in which no operation was necessary.
When things are going our way, we forget to consider how they might have gone, or be going, without, in Witherspoon’s words, “the protection of Divine Providence.” And, yet, that protection surrounds us and sustains us every day in a million ways.
People are often quick to point out when things go wrong and complain, but, then, if you stop and think of the grand picture of human life, why should anything have ever gone right? I don’t deserve a life without troubles. Basically, I don’t deserve a life. And, yet, I have one and the fact I’m here to talk about it is a miracle. By 1900, 75% of the people born in the U.S. in 1840 had died. So, native-born sixty-year olds were thin on the ground. Today, over 90% of the people born in the U.S. in 1958 are still alive.
And, we can say this is due to improved nutrition, health care, transportation, education, way of life, and a thousand other factors, but, at the end of the day, it is the result of people making those things possible, or, to put it another way it is the result of people making decisions in accordance with God’s hopes for their lives. And, for those people I should give thanks.
I should give thanks for a Scottish shipping clerk who, when he inherited some money from an uncle, decided to go to medical school instead of into business. His name was Alexander Fleming and he discovered penicillin.
I should give thanks for a retired Naval engineer who barely avoided a collision when on a country drive with his family. His name was John Hetrick and, after the accident, he invented the air-bag.
I should give thanks for a Polish estate manager named Stephen Marciszewski, who emigrated to America in 1903. His son, Edmund Muskie, became the Senator who championed the Clean Air Act.
In other words, there is a host of people I have never known for whom I should give thanks and who have been the agents of Divine Providence, even if they haven’t known it.
But, God knows, for God knows all the properties of all the beings that he has made. He knows all the connections, dependencies, and relations, and all the ways wherein one of them can affect another. And, when you think about it, that’s a staggering concept.
There’s the old question, Does God know the future? The answer is, Yes and No. Every day, each of us makes a thousand decisions and God knows what the results of all of those could possibly be. The only thing he doesn’t know is what decisions we will end up making. That’s called Free-Will. So, God doesn’t just know one future; he knows a trillion trillion alternative futures.
In 1857, a French scientist, Abel St.-Victor, while trying to create a way to photograph in colour noticed some unusual effects of uranium chloride on his plates, but he moved on to other things. Might the atomic age have come sooner if he had chosen to pursue this research, forty years before Marie Curie noticed the same thing? I don’t know, but God does.
And, God’s not just sitting back and watching. He’s involved; urging, encouraging, supporting. And, above all, hoping that we will make the decisions which will have the best outcomes, not only for us, but for all generations to come.
Therefore, on this Thanksgiving let us give thanks for the little things, the ordinary things, the “protection of Divine Providence” as John Witherspoon phrased it, that all add up to give us what we have.
In the Name…