Are Stores Open Thanksgiving Deserving Of Wide Scale Divine Retribution?
Granted, retailers opening on Thanksgiving might not have been the most family-friendly or magnanimous gesture in relation to their employees. However, the response on the part of certain theologians and critics might have gone a bit overboard.
In particular, one such condemnation intoned that from this alteration in commercial operational policy that America is an evil nation worthy of God's judgment.
So because Walmart was either open on Thanksgiving or opened their doors later that evening, nuclear destruction and annihilation or something comparable should rain down across the nation. That is, of course, what is usually meant by the euphemism of “God's judgment”.
To justify this hardline response to opening stores on Thanksgiving beyond simply frowning upon the decision to actively wanting to see lives ruined because of it, Biblical prohibitions regarding the Sabbath are often invoked.
The intentions might possess a nobility in that these sentiments attempt to construe all of reality through the light of God's word and theology derived from it. However, in terms of religious jurisprudence, the position falls a bit short in terms of serving as a platform upon which one can stand to look righteous in calling for blatant ruination and upheaval.
God no doubt delights when His children offer up gratitude for what He has provided and is angered when this appreciation is not evident. However, it does not follow that one cannot express gratitude in a scheduled ritualized manner prior to engaging in orderly commerce later that same day.
One might even claim that God does not really care one way or another to a great degree about the statutory observance of Thanksgiving Day. It may come as a surprise, but there is nothing found within the pages of the canon of Scripture demanding the observance be commemorated a particular Thursday in November.
It must also be asked to what extent do those enforcing Thanksgiving Day under the Mosaic regulations upholding the Sabbath want these punishments and prohibitions enforced? From Exodus 20:9-11, it is learned that the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. Jehovah is quite explicit about this.
In our system of chronometric tabulation, Saturday is the Sabbath. What the vast majority of Christians celebrate each Sunday (especially in the morning) is technically not the Sabbath but rather the Lord's Day to commemorate the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
These have been conflated in the minds of many, especially those under the sway of a strict legalism. However, these days are not the same.
So are those demanding compulsory observance of the Sabbath willing to turn themselves over for execution should they find themselves violating the extensive prohibitions regulating the day? For according to Exodus 31:14, that is the stipulated punishment for those failing to observe the Sabbath of the seventh day if such a regulation still applies beyond Deuteronomical Israel.
When those attending compulsory Sabbath observations return home, do they intend to walk rather than operate a vehicle? For that is the extent to which the most observant Orthodox Jews adhere to the exactness of that divine decree. Senator Joseph Lieberman would not even place his own subway fair card into the electronic ticket-taker.
Furthermore, do those deliberating to make such a chore of relaxation intend to only eat leftovers from the night before or unheated prepackaged foods? Because if the true believing Christian must abide by every Biblical decree in excruciating detail for fear of befalling God's indignation, the preparation of consumables is forbidden as well.
Those more interested in ruining everyone else's celebration rather than simply maximizing their own will respond that simply pointing out what is said plainly in certain passages of Scripture downplayed as a result of those advocating them not wanting a greater majority of Christians to grapple with what is being said actually obscures the greater truth of the principle that is being conveyed. Fair enough.
If not for the principles conveyed by God to the Hebrew forefathers of the need for rest and reflection, mankind might have never comprehended the need for a work environment beneficial for all sides of the economic transaction. Before this revelation, for the most part laborers were little more than fodder to be worked until they dropped and quickly discarded.
However, are those insisting up a slavish adherence to the letter of the law really getting that point across when their homiletical formulations cause the listeners to stop and wonder if what really gets the motors of these scriptural exegetes running is rather body counts, the destruction of property, and overall social upheaval. For are not these in some form or another what is meant by the phrase “God's judgment”?
In these times of widespread debauchery and systematic subversion of Western culture, one usually tries to distance oneself from feminist critiques and condemnation of traditional religion. However, if one desires to be an honest observer of the human condition, one is forced to admit that only a man sitting back with his feet propped up would construe Thanksgiving Day as a Sabbath free from labor.
On the classic sitcom “Home Improvement” starring Tim Allen, one of the wittiest lines ever uttered on the series was verbalized when his sidekick Al Borlin quipped that dinner does not make itself. The remark was very similar to an observation made by my own mother.
If a man fails to realize that Thanksgiving is not some magical occasion where one of the most delicious dinners of the year just sprouts fully formed on the table in a manner akin to manna from Heaven, it is most likely that a woman in either the form of a wife, mother or even unwed concubine has spent much of the day laboring away in preparation.
Interestingly, those often complaining the loudest about the growing irreverence with which the day is treated are not absent from the kitchen because they are given over to the higher spiritual pursuits such as prayer, Bible study, or theological contemplation. Instead, they are plopped in an easy chair or on the sofa watching the most typical of entertainments. And I am not talking about the Westminster Kennel Club but rather NFL football.
The conspicuously religious claim that they are opposed to retailers being opened on Thanksgiving because their delicate consciences are disturbed by something so crass and base as mere commerce being transacted on such a solemn occasion. Then why do they have their peepers glued to the boob tube?
It is quite instructive that this contempt for free market exchange is limited to when it is engaged in by the laboring and servile classes. For the last time I checked, it is doubtful that the players, assorted team personnel, or the media conglomerates were putting on a complimentary exhibition game.
No doubt, millions upon millions of dollars exchange hands to orchestrate whatever number of games take place on this particular day. I am not really aware of the exact number. I usually watch the dog show while eating canned pasta just so I can say I had spaghetti for Thanksgiving.
So why are those deciding to go shopping on Thanksgiving more worthy of having death and misery inflicted upon them more so than those instead either attending the football game or even watching the event on television? Confronted so boldly about what it is that they are advocating, those previously enunciating a desire to see God's wrath dispensed over something as commonplace as going to the mall might attempt to linguistically backpedal by claiming that, in their call for judgment, they did not mean to wish misery or death upon those participating in a disputed activity or behavior.
I've pretty much been in or around Christian circles my entire life even if I don't feel welcomed within them entirely. The phrase “God's judgment” rarely has connotation other than that of sorrow and lamentation unless in rare instances where one is referencing the rewards that will be bestowed upon the believer for the good deeds they did honoring to Christ.
Furthermore, in the vast majority of instances, it's not like those participating one way or the other were prevented from enjoying the primary festivities of the Thanksgiving celebration or were not duly compensated in some manner.
For example, though likely not a universal beneficence bestowed on all employees, most laboring to make the sales happen were probably paid some kind of overtime. If not, such personnel were probably not compelled to work beyond their normal allotment of hours for that particular week. As such, they were payed with their scheduled adjusted to be off at another time.
Of even less moral concern ought to be the ones deciding to participate in these sales events on the consumer side of the transaction. For example, many of these sales were designated to commence well after the customary dinner hour.
As such, by that point in the evening, most would have already cogitated upon whatever thoughts of gratitude would have otherwise fired within their respective synapses. Most are in a turkey-induced catatonia, bloated and passing intestinal gas as they glare in a stupor into the television.
Interestingly, if we are raising the opposition to the opening of retailers on Thanksgiving to the level of Biblical law worthy of incurring divine retribution for violating, it must be pointed out that the commencement of these sales technically aren't even occurring on Thanksgiving. In the context of Hebrew culture and religious jurisprudence, the rendering of the day is not determined from midnight to midnight as occurs in the contemporary system. The day is instead rendered from sundown to sundown.
If one wants to be a stickler to Biblical detail, it must be noted that many of these Thanksgiving sales often commence well after dark. Therefore, under Sabbath prohibitions, it is no more immoral to shop from the disputed 8 to 11:59 PM than it would be during the 8 to 11:59 AM period Black Friday morning.
Those wanting to impose the Old Testament as binding civil legislation insist such must be done because God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So if Americans deserve nuclear annihilation, plague, or whatever manifestation of the Apocalypse tickles your particular eschatological fancy for simply going to the store on Thanksgiving, should our nation also be destroyed for altering the method of rendering the days in compliance with the interpretative principle just enunciated?
It can indeed be upsetting to see what one perceives as our culture moving away from Godly foundations. However, enunciating a desire to see lives ruined and destroyed for such is probably a greater violation of explicit Biblical imperatives (such as the careful invocation of judgment) than the modification of a practice that (though commendable and worthy of continuation) is more of an interpretive application of the divine imperatives to begin with.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. He holds a BS in Political Science/History. Frederick earned a MA in Apologetics & Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary. Frederick holds a Doctor of Practical Theology through the Master's Graduate School Of Divinity in Evansville, Indiana. Dr. Meekins is pursuing a Ph.D. in Apologetics through Newburgh Theological Seminary. His books are available in print and electronic formats through Amazon.com. His ministry site, Issachar Bible Church & Apologetics Research Institute, can be found at http://issacharbiblechurch.blogspot.com/. The Twitter page of Dr. Meekins can be found at