Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for His wondrous works to the children of man!
...Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.
Psalm 107:31, 43
How important is thanksgiving? Whether in a human relationship or in relationship with God, does thanksgiving merely express the beneficiary’s acknowledgement of benevolence from the benefactor? Is it for the purpose of gratifying the giver, so that he receives at least a little something for his expression of help? Does it merely enhance the recipient‘s prospects of receiving further help? Or is there more to thanksgiving?
Doug Wilson goes so far as to say that thanksgiving is bound up with belief in God. To his “anti-theist” philosophical sparring partner, Christopher Hitchens, Wilson claims:
The issue of thanksgiving is really central to the whole debate about the existence of God. On the one hand, if there is no God, there is no need to thank anyone. We are here as the result of a long chain of impersonal processes, grinding their way down to our brief moment in time. If there is a God, then every breath, every moment, every sight and sound, is sheer, unadulterated gift. And as our mothers taught us, when someone gives you presents like this, the only appropriate response is to thank them. (Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World?)
Only with belief in God, Wilson says, does thanksgiving have any meaning. If there’s no one to thank, gratitude is merely misdirected sentiment for fortuitous actions that had neither design nor intention behind them. Should God exist, though, and all that we are, have, or receive finds its ultimate origin in His will, then not to thank Him is to be as oblivious to one’s surroundings as a dead man in a field of blooming bluebonnets.
Still there’s more to giving thanks than simply validating your faith in God. Psalm 107, as we heard Sunday, claims any joy from that belief in God is also bound up with thanksgiving. It recounted at least four stories of rescue from affliction—rescue by the hand of God in response to a plaintive cry for help. Whether their plight was due to rebellion against God or to the oppression of wicked men, His deliverance demonstrated His steadfast love. And they couldn’t help but thank Him! Their experience strengthened their faith that God exists, but also liberated their joy that He is good in being so steadfastly loving.
Is it your habit to reflect, as the Psalmist does, upon the various acts of rescue the Lord has entered into on your behalf? Does not Paul remind the church at Ephesus how they were once “dead in trespasses and sins” and following “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” (Ephesians 2:1–3)? Only to likewise recount, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:4–6).
Were it not for the grace of God in Christ, we would all still be objects of wrath (2:3). Reflection upon that truth alone would be enough to elicit joy-bringing thanksgiving. But the grace of salvation is only the pinnacle of all other rescue operations He undertakes for us. Paul wants the church at Ephesus to recall how Christ brought them to Himself, but also how He is continually burnishing their souls—a slow and painstaking process of refinement. To that subsidiary help we must give our attention too.
So, what confusions has the Word of God delivered you from? What follies? What idolatries and addictions has He replaced with satisfying, God-honoring affections? What did you once love that you now see, by God’s grace, wasn’t worth the love? Reflection upon His past gifts of rescue are intended to be nourishment to us. So too His present works. What rescue operations are ongoing? What are you beginning to see as evidence of His attempt to get you to trust more in what He promises than in what you thought you could trust?
Dwelling on the loving rescue of God in generic fashion will not do. The concluding command of Psalm 107 is to consider His steadfast love (v. 43). This the psalmist practices by recounting God’s specific acts of rescue. Such considered reflection leads to an understanding, a comprehension of God which leads to thanksgiving, and which we must pray for (Psalm 119:34).
So will you consider again even just a few of the trials and follies He’s rescued you from? Those who do, the psalmist says, will gain wisdom by what they discover. What’s more, your thanksgiving speaks mightily to those who hear your stories: “The upright see it and are glad.”