Thankfulness is one of the distinguishing traits of humanity. We sense the need to say thanks, and we realize we ought to be more grateful than we are. Moreover, we perceive that we are indebted to (and accountable to) a higher power than ourselves—the God who made us. According to Scripture, everyone has this knowledge, including those who refuse to honor God or thank Him (Rom. 1:19–21).
Ingratitude is dishonorable by anyone’s reckoning, but to be willfully ungrateful toward the Creator in whose image we are made is to deny an essential aspect of our humanity. The shame of such ingratitude is inscribed on the human conscience. Even the most dogmatic atheists are not immune from the knowledge that they ought to give thanks to God. Try as they might to suppress or deny the impulse, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Rom. 1:19).
During a November 2009 debate in England, Richard Dawkins admitted that when he looks at the Milky Way or the Grand Canyon, he is overcome by a profound feeling of thankfulness. “It’s a feeling of sort of an abstract gratitude that I am alive to appreciate these wonders,” he said. “When I look down a microscope it’s the same feeling. I am grateful to be alive to appreciate these wonders.” But to whom does an atheist like Dawkins express such gratitude?
Another atheist says the answer is easy for her: she thanks her lucky stars. “What it comes down to,” she writes, “is that an atheist is generally thankful for good luck, serendipity.”
That’s an odd and ironic answer from a point of view that repudiates theism on the grounds that it is not “rational” to believe in God. But in the end, the atheist is no less superstitious than the astrologist (or animist) who thinks that impersonal “lucky stars” determine one’s fortune.
On some level, atheists themselves know this. Proof of their internal angst is seen in the fact that so many of them are not content merely to disbelieve. They are militant in their opposition to God. They hate the very thought of God and would love to have every mention of Him removed from public discourse—as if that would somehow remove the burden of their own ingratitude and relieve the pangs of a guilty conscience.
Such hatred is as irrational as atheism itself. Who nurtures such hatred for a being whose existence he denies?
Indeed, as Scripture says, it is the ultimate folly to try to suppress our own innate sense of obligation to our Maker. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps. 14:1). To deny God is to debase one’s own mind and dehumanize the whole person (Rom. 1:28).
That’s why we remind ourselves to give thanks to God. He graciously compels us to thank Him, and He Himself should top the list of things we are thankful for.