Psalm 136:1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.”
Giving thanks from the Biblical point of view is more than letting God know we appreciate what he has done. It’s more like what I learned to do in grade school English class with a thank-you card. The thank-you card was supposed to have more than the word “thanks.” You were to mention the gift by name. Then you were to write something about what the gift meant to you: how you were going to use it, why you needed it, how it would make a difference for your life. The thank-you card became a little historical review of and commentary on the kindness that someone had shown to you.
That same idea is behind the Hebrew words the psalmist uses when he writes, “Give thanks to the Lord.” This is an invitation to give our own little historical review of the kindness the Lord has shown to us. It gives our thanksgiving something of a testimonial flavor. If you read the rest of Psalm 136 you will see that this is exactly what the author of the psalm does. He thanks God for his work of creating us, and delivering his people from Egypt, and taking care of them in the wilderness.
But our personal thanksgivings don’t have to be about such grand events. I once read a missionary story about a woman in Africa who was eager to have her entire congregation join her in thanking God. The occasion for her gratitude: she had received a simple pair of shoes. She couldn’t get over how good God had been to her. In our land of plenty you and I may not be filled with such a sense of appreciation over a pair of shoes. I can’t think of a time when I specifically thanked God after purchasing a pair. I know I have never requested my entire congregation to join in giving thanks for such an event. That’s not because our shoes are any less an undeserved gift from him, or because we owe him any less appreciation for them. For us, too, “clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse and children, land, cattle, and all I own,” are examples of God’s goodness and mercy and reason to give him thanks.
God’s goodness, then, can take many forms. Good can mean “beneficial.” This is “good” as in, “Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you.” Or “Lady bugs eat aphids. They are good for the garden.” And no one or nothing has done more good for us than our Lord. Psalm 103 summarizes them nicely when it says, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Forgiveness of sins and physical health are just a few illustrations of the fact that the Lord is good– a God whose goodness benefits us in every way.
Good can also mean “attractive” or “pleasant.” We enjoy reading a “good” book. When the sun is shining, the air is dry, and the temperatures are warm, we consider it “good” weather. When we like the way something looks or how it makes us feel, it is a “good” one.
Haven’t we all experienced the goodness of God in this way, too? “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” Psalm 34 urges us. If you have ever felt the relief of your sins forgiven and your guilt lifted, if you have ever known the comfort that God was holding you up in troubled times, if you have ever experienced the joy of God answering your prayers or blessing your efforts with success, if you have ever been filled with the hope for the future and the longing for heaven God’s promises inspire, then you, too, have tasted and you have seen that the Lord is good.
Behind such goodness of God is the other thing the psalmist celebrates in this simple prayer: “His love endures forever.”
God’s gifts fill our need. We could not live without them. But the Lord doesn’t give them merely because they are useful. His gifts are still tokens of his affection for us. Those gifts, whether spiritual or physical, express the love in his heart that never changes. Such giving is not a cold, unfeeling function he performs. He does not supply us with food, family, and friends like some cosmic paymaster, some other-worldly company bookkeeper, disinterestedly, dispassionately processing the payroll for the millions and billions of employees here on earth. These are God’s personal expressions of love and mercy.
That love and mercy extends back through the centuries. It gave Noah reason to build an altar. It gave David and Solomon reason to build a temple. It gave Jesus’ disciples reason to spread a message. It still gives us reason to set aside some time as we sit at the table, or when we recognize God’s blessings, and offer the Lord a prayer of thanksgiving. This love and mercy, which have always been there for us in the past, and are present with us now, will endure forever. Thankfully.