October 1863 saw Americans firmly entrenched in the middle of the third calendar year of the Civil War; a war that, perhaps more than any other American war, brought great suffering, pain, turmoil, and strife to American soil and threatened to undo the entire American experiment. However, even during this great American crisis, President Abraham Lincoln had the ability to not only look forward from the midst of American strife to a better future, but was able to make this statement about the present American condition after two years of fighting between father and son, brother and brother:
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
It certainly is true that we all too easily take the mundane and continuing blessings of life for granted—the “fruitful fields and healthful skies,” and even the daily rising and setting of the sun. It is no small thing that the planets turn according to certain imperfect laws of motion or that the miracle of life occurs day by day in the fields and greenhouses of American farmers; but besides the provisions of nature, we also can forget the many provisions offered us by the American republic in which we live. It can sound hackneyed perhaps to rehearse once again the blessings of our civil liberties: speech, the press, free thought, peaceful protest, fair trial, equal rights for all men; but even a casual glance at the vast majority of nations outside our borders ought to be sober reminder enough that our liberties are only distant dreams—or in some cases, terrible nightmares—for many of the world population.
Positive progress is always the easiest to see and be thankful for, but we must not forget that things unseen—the terrors escaped and the sins avoided, as well as the opportunities created and future possibilites secured by past actions—are no less worthy of our gratitude. Living in a democractic republic means that we don’t live under a tyrant, secured civil liberties provide us with opportunities to create and flourish…and the rotation of the earth means, among other things, that our feet remain firmly planted on the ground (and just think of the multitudinous opportunities that one simple fact opens before us!).
While many may disagree that the on-going turmoil in Iraq is the one thing that we cannot and should not be thankful for, I suggest that the progress being made in that country—progress measured by decreasing deaths among soldiers and civilian alike, increased involvement of Iraqis in solving Iraq’s problems, the discovery of and effort toward erradication of corruption of and insurgent infilitration in Iraq’s military and police forces, and the still sporadic but slowly increasing decisions by local and regional leaders to cooperate in building a hopeful future in their country—is cause for great rejoicing. We can rejoice for the benefits that are being secured for our fellow man; we can also rejoice that progress in Iraq brings American sacrifice and involvement in the region towards a sooner end.
Regardless of one’s own opinion regarding the wisdom or justifiability of America’s initial action in Iraq, we all can join together in thanks that the country has not fallen into civil war and unbridled sectarian strife. More, America’s enemies have not used the unrest in Iraq, the deep entrenchment of American forces in the region, or the political fragmentation among U.S. citizenry as grounds to launch an offensive against Israel, Iraq, or America and her allies.
On the home front, even while Americans have felt the squeeze of rising oil prices, the falling housing market, and the ravages of tropical storms and ravenouse wild fires, we continue to live our lives at unprecedented levels of comfort, luxury, and personal fulfillment. The younger generations of Americans have yet to experience the true pinch of limited commodities that were a standard part of the Great Depression generation. The lack of great suffering on a national level even while America is embroiled in the middle of an ideological and practical international political and military struggle speaks volumes about the many and great benefits secured for the American people by the wisdom and foresight of the Founding Fathers. Despite the many hardships of 2007, Americans have much to be thankful for.
This Thanksgiving weekend, I think it worthwhile to mirror President Lincoln’s speech and acknowledge not only the blessings of the past, but also to think upon the continued goodness of God shown to us individually and collectively, with an eye to the future and to redeeming the time.