A Rabid Fundamentalist Column



John W. Cowart

A political cartoon from 1919

The Thanksgiving holiday confuses those of us who live at the little end of the horn.

One of the symbols of the season is a cornucopia – the horn of plenty – with grapes, figs, wheat and all the ingredients for a lavish feast pouring forth in prosperity.

However, at the little end of the horn is nothing but a blunt point of wicker. Hardly a single grape seed can squeeze out there. And at times all of us feel as though we live at that end.

Sometimes, it seems we pour our energy, talents and money – our very life force – into the big end of life’s horn while we are forced to subsist on a trickle from the little end.

But even the poor are expected to be thankful. We look at unpaid bills, the children’s tattered shoes, the wife’s fading best dress and we wonder what there is to be thankful for. It seems like hypocrisy to sing hymns about joyful thanksgiving when you worry that tomorrow the city will cut off your lights.

The traditional image of Thanksgiving presented to us makes no provision for folks at the little end of the horn. We feel intimidated into working up a feeling of thanksgiving. We are urged to look on those worse off than we are and be thankful we are not is as bad a shape. That reeks of a sour grapes attitude. Can I really believe that someone else’s toothache hurts as bad as mine? My troubles may not be as desperate as someone else’s, but they are mine.

How can I honestly give thanks when the circumstances of my life dictate despair?

How can I joyfully sing about all the crops being safely gathered in when the only crop I gather comes from the food stamp office? 

How can you relish the glory of God while confined to a drab nursing home, while waiting to see if the biopsy is malignant, or while dividing your paycheck among creditors?

How can you be thankful when you feel lost, confused and frustrated?

Is God reasonable to call for praises and thanksgivings from the poor and needy?

Yes, He is.

There are three elements involved in giving thanks: external, internal and eternal. And these three elements reach even to the little end of the horn. Even there, Christ offers good news.

The external element in thanksgiving involves things outside of you – your job, your family, your car, your home – anything you have or don’t have. These things change constantly. Their value to you fluctuates. Their relationship to you shifts all the time.

Yet, most thanksgiving occurs on this external level.

We give thanks – or complain – depending on our current state of affairs relating to these externals. The worm in this particular apple is that no one has every external thing ordered exactly to his own liking. No one can depend on the externals of life to motivate his thanksgiving.

Those who today are thankful for their new car, tomorrow will complain because they can’t afford gas for it. Those who are feasting will grumble because they have to wash dishes.

The internal element in thanksgiving is based on things within you – your emotions and feelings. These also constantly change and are almost impossible to control.

For instance, sometimes I adore my wife no matter what she says or does or spends. Some other times nothing she does could possibly please me because I’m determined to be grumpy no matter what.

Often internal feelings are influenced by the secretions of tiny glands. Although you are responsible before God for how you choose to express your feelings, those feelings may depend on how much bile your liver produces at any given moment. Some chemical imbalance within the body can exercise more control over feelings than conscious thought does. Therefore, your feeling of well being – or of hopelessness – may not truly reflect your actual state of affairs.

We all know of times when we expected to feel happy, but really felt nothing at all. And we have all felt depressed for no reason we could pinpoint. Because of the changing nature of internal factors, we find it impossible to “work up” gratitude toward God without feeling like hypocrites.

Neither external things nor internal feelings form a solid basis for being thankful. But, in requiring thanksgiving from us, God takes into account both our internal and external circumstances.

He does not ask for something we cannot give.

The book of Psalms -- although filled with hymns of thanksgiving-- reveals the author’s distress over internal and external factors.

One writer complains about the cruelty of his external enemies and prays, “Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth” (Ps 58:6).

In another place he reveals his internal distress saying, “I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly: I go mourning all the day long” (Psalm 38:6).

But even with these internal and external stresses the Psalmist still finds a solid basis for offering thanks to God.

God knows our frustrations and exasperations. There truly is a place where we can pour out our complaints before the Lord. We can certainly tell our Father where it hurts.

The Scriptures contain no nonsense about trying to be thankful for things you are not thankful for. But they do reveal a solid basis for thanksgiving founded on a third element regardless of our state concerning the other two.

The third element involved in giving thanks is eternal.

On this level, the factors calling for out thanksgiving depend neither on external circumstances nor on internal feelings, but rather on the unchanging character of God.

Because of the eternal factors involved, thanksgiving is obligatory for all believers regardless of which end of the horn we call home. It is reasonable for God to expect thanksgiving and praise from even the poorest, neediest, sickest, most miserable person.

“Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good”. (Psalm 118:1)

God is good.

More than any preceding generation, our generation questions this declaration. Tiny nibbling mice of doubt gnaw away at this foundation stone in the mind of everyone experiencing troubles.

If God is good, then why retarded children? Why war? Why cancer? Why are my children rebelling? Why am I so frustrated in what I want from life?

Is God really good?

Occasionally we have something bad happen which, with the passage of time, works out okay. Then we are elated and testify about how “All things work together for good”. But our very elation and testimony proves that we basically believe this working out for good is an exception to the way things normally go.

God is good. In spite of our doubts and lack of faith, God is good. His nature is good. His purpose is good. His actions are good. The things He gives are good, and the things He withholds are also good.

The catch in this is that good often hurts.

Once the doctor admitted me to the hospital. They probed and punched and drew my blood. They gave me a bitter cup to drink and took pictures. They strapped me to a machine which tilted and wobbled this way and that. They would give me nothing to eat, not even a slice of dry toast.

Even though my overall treatment made me uncomfortable, humiliated and afraid; even though I was hungry, confined and apprehensive; even though I did not like what I was going through – it was still reasonable for me to be thankful for what was happening to me.

They were saving my life.

The very tribulation I endured called for thanksgiving since it worked for my good.

Christ is not a common doctor; He is the Great Physician. He gives us the full treatment. He is good and He insists on working for your good. So don’t be surprised if His treatment causes you pain, discomfort, indignity or humiliation. Healing usually hurts.

When you live at the little end of the horn, when you are subjected to hunger, to anxiety, to tribulation, to a bitter cup, even then be thankful for God is good.

He is on your side no matter what is happening to you. He cares about you. He likes you. Believe that he is good and that He acts for your good…

And be thankful.

The anticipation of Heaven is another factor involved in the eternal element of thanksgiving. In our day this factor has fallen into disrepute. Scoffers have mocked and Heaven now embarrasses us. The taunt Pie-In-The-Sky-By-And-By intimidates us and we cover our shame by dismissing Heaven and dwelling on the blessings of God now in this life.

We don’t talk about Heaven very much, except for vague references to a better place made at funerals.

We don’t think about Heaven very much.

We don’t believe very much.

We grieve like the world grieves saying, “Poor John. Looks so natural. At least he’s at rest now”.


Poor John is the latest guest of honor at the biggest celebration this universe has ever seen. It’s like Christmas morning for Poor John. The presents are spread out in lavish array around the Tree Of Life. And, although Poor John may have spent an anxious Christmas Eve wondering if there really would be any presents, now he’s wide-eyed with wonder…

And he has no regrets that our Father didn’t let him open his gifts early.

God has gifts, wonders, delights unimaginable stored up for His children. The Scripture says, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).

His treasures can’t break, rust or be stolen. He has a place for you. He has a plan for good and not for evil to give you a future and a hope!

Can you imaging anyone in Heaven complaining about what they lacked on earth?

Pie in the sky by and by?

Well, yes.

That’s the only pie there is.

If you’re at the little end of the horn at the moment, why not anticipate Heaven and be thankful for “verily, there is a reward for the righteous” (Psalm 58:11).

Viewing your present circumstances in the light of anticipating God’s eternal Heaven helps earthly things fall into place. For instance, if your biggest worry now is cancer, remember that those malignant cells will eat up everything they can and then they will starve from lack of food – You will outlast them.

You will live forever.

You will spend all eternity somewhere.

We are offered eternal life in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And that life in Him not only goes on forever but it has a quality that makes you glad it does.

Another eternal element in thanksgiving at the little end of the horn is that we know that the present order of things is not  based on reality. The True and Righteous Judge is going to straighten things out. “For He cometh to judge the earth: with righteous shall he judge the world and the people with equity” (Psalm 98:9).

Why strain and struggle to get to the head of the line?

The Scripture declares that when He sets things in their true order the last shall be first; the least, greatest, and the greatest servant of all.

Should we sulk and demand our rights and chafe under ill-treatment as though a servant ought to be greater than his master?

Our Lord Jesus Christ lived at the little end of the horn.

He was a guest at other men’s banquets. He did not own the boat he preached from. He did not own the donkey he rode into Jerusalem. The cross He died on was not his possession; it was the property of the Roman government.

Even the tomb where He was buried was borrowed from a wealthy man.

Jesus returned it in good condition after only three days use.

Jesus is the Lord of Glory; and we, His followers, can expect no better lot in this world than our Lord received. We can not reasonably expect to take our proper place in the scheme of things until He does.

Therefore, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God… made Himself of no reputation, and too, upon Himself the form of a servant” (Philippians 2: 5-7).

If we live at the little end of the horn, then let’s be thankful that we live where Christ lived.

Serve Christ and your brother right where you are when you can with what you have

The day is coming when Christ will stand the horn – the whole order of things in this present world – on end and shake it. You are in the right place for His abundant blessing. He once said, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the Kingdom of God”.

Was He lying?

At the little end of the horn there are eternal reasons to be thankful.…

That’s fundamental.



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