This is the column that I published in the Deseret News on Thanksgiving Day 2016:
It’s not insignficant that the verbs “to think” and “to thank” (compare German “denken” and “danken”) share the same linguistic root. The scriptures are replete with exhortations to “remember,” to reflect, to thank:
“O give thanks unto the Lord,” says the psalmist (105:1-5), “call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works. Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. . . . Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth.”
Even secular-minded people should pause occasionally to consider the blessings that we enjoy. We live in a universe, for example, that’s seemingly fine-tuned for our arrival, on a privileged planet where the conditions are primed for life.
But those conditions have existed throughout history. Today, though, most Americans live in unprecedented luxury of which even kings couldn’t have dreamed a few generations ago. Royal castles were drafty and cold then, and lacked plumbing. For us, by contrast, if the weather is too hot, we turn the air conditioning on. If it’s too cold, we have central heating.
We can, if we choose, enjoy an unimaginably rich cuisine—American one day, Chinese the next. Mexican, Thai, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian. We eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, without regard to season. The diet of a Renaissance prince was poor and monotonous compared to the offerings of a typical American supermarket.
For most of us, hunger and starvation aren’t the issue; our problem is actually having too much. (Of course, that’s not true of everybody, and now our challenge is to share with those most in need and, ideally, to bring them and others up to a better standard of living.) If anything, the traditional Thanksgiving feast has lost a bit of its “specialness” because many of us eat pretty well all the time. (One of my students tells me, though, that she’s looking eagerly forward to what she calls “non-ramen Thursday.”)
Our technology, our labor-saving devices, would astonish our ancestors. We travel at unimaginable speeds in unthinkable comfort; we’re upset if our flight is delayed for thirty minutes, and irritated when we’re handed pretzels rather than peanuts or obliged to sit in a middle seat.
We listen to the Berlin Philharmonic or to the latest rock or country tunes wherever and whenever we want. We communicate cheaply and instantaneously at great distances. The world’s knowledge is available to us with a few clicks. We watch movies on demand, whenever we choose. In our own homes. Whereas earlier generations were obliged to work from sunrise to sunset in order to survive, we worry about whether we’re getting enough exercise.
Many of the diseases that once carried us off can be cured with simple medicines; other ailments can be fixed with routine procedures. Death still takes us eventually but, on the whole, we live pretty well until it does. When our hearing falters, we have hearing aids. We keep our teeth, or else we replace them—along with our hips and our knees. Have you ever thought to be grateful for your glasses or contact lenses? Perhaps you should. What would your life be like without them?
Latter-day Saints, though, have specific reasons to be thankful, reasons that go far beyond material comforts and technological marvels.
The restoration of the gospel in the early nineteenth century provides modern corroboration of the biblical stories. It testifies of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and of his resurrection from the dead, gracious gifts from a loving Father and his selfless Son. Because Christ rose, we too will rise, and the ordinances of the gospel link generations together for all eternity. Life wins. Love wins. The restored gospel tells us of the plan of salvation, a plan of happiness that suffuses our lives with rich and deep meaning. It teaches us of a Heavenly Father who wants us to inherit everything that he has.
“O give thanks unto the Lord,” sings the Psalmist, “for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 107:1)
Moreover, the restored gospel teaches us that—like God, who seeks to share everything he has with his children—we should share our abundance with our brothers and sisters. At this season, as at all others. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).