- Thanksgiving Day is a recognized day to give thanks to God for who he is and what he has done.
- We give thanks especially for his goodness and his steadfast love.
- God’s goodness describes his perfect character and gracious actions toward humanity and creation in general.
- God’s steadfast love refers to his affectionate devotion that shows itself in acts of kindness.
- In addition to giving thanks, our proper response to God’s goodness and steadfast love is to turn from our sins, believing that forgiveness is available to us because Jesus died for sinners.
Thanksgiving Day forms a cherished part of civic celebration in the United States and several other countries around the world. In America this formal day of thanksgiving may be traced at least as far back as the pilgrims and their Wampanoag friends at Plymouth Colony in 1621. Variously celebrated in the colonies in the following decades, our first national “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” was declared by George Washington in his first term as president in 1789. His proclamation clearly identified that our thanks is due to Almighty God:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor. . . .
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks.
President Washington went on to identify several specific reasons why that generation should express thanksgiving. His summary reason was that men ought to thank God “in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.” This summons to give thanks reflects the truth that feelings of gratitude and expressions of thanksgiving ought to characterize all people. As the old hymn exhorts, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings, see what God has done!”
God’s People Are Thankful.
Throughout the Bible we see that God’s people are a thankful people. Giving thanks to God is a demonstration of our humble dependence upon him. One of the sacrifices that Israel offered to God was a peace offering for thanksgiving (Leviticus 7:11–18). Songs of “thanksgiving and praise to the Lord” were presented regularly in the temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 25:3; cf. 2 Chronicles 31:2; Nehemiah 11:17, 12:24, 46). The psalms of David and others expressed thanks to God (e.g., Psalm 7:17, 30:12, 35:18, 92:1–4) and exhorted the people: “sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (Psalm 30:4). Christians give thanks “to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” for the salvation we enjoy by faith (Romans 7:25; cf. 2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 5:20). This thanksgiving to God continues in heaven, where God’s creatures say, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12; cf. 4:9).
In Scripture, a repeated statement of thanksgiving to God recounted two of his notable characteristics: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” This invitation to praise and to give thanks to God was a frequent element of their corporate worship (Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1). These two characteristics of God were also recounted by the psalmist David in his personal meditation upon his relationship with God. In Psalm 23:6, David affirms, “Surely goodness and mercy [steadfast love] shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
God Is and Does Good.
Good is the first adjective found in the Bible. In Genesis 1:4, “God saw that the light was good.” On each successive day of Creation Week, God declared his work was good, culminating in his final verdict that the finished creation was “very good” (verse 31). Each day’s work was declared good in its own right, but his final pronouncement that it was all very good indicates in part that each aspect complemented the whole and fully expressed God’s intention in creation. It is important to recognize that this unambiguous designation precludes the presence of sin, suffering, disease, and death.
Throughout the Bible the adjective good has a wide range of meaning—all positive, of course. It can describe the character or nature of someone or something, its aesthetic beauty, and its effective usefulness and efficiency. It can identify a large quantity, true rationality, happiness, and adequacy for a purpose. It can affirm that the person or object attains or holds to an applicable standard, lacking in nothing of what was intended. It can speak of moral virtue in itself and the expression of that goodness in kindness to others. A plethora of synonyms further suggests the opulent nature of this term, such as pleasant, attractive, wholesome, suitable, cogent, favorable, true, full, right, competent, kind, and benevolent. Many of these characteristics augment each other, emphasizing a specific aspect of the person or object described.
God is the highest good that we could ever seek, and he is the standard by which we can even measure goodness.
God only and always does good (Psalm 119:68). He can do no wrong—not even partially wrong. He is good even when circumstances are bad. He is good even when people are not. God is the highest good that we could ever seek, and he is the standard by which we can even measure goodness. The prophet Zechariah exclaimed, “For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” (Zechariah 9:17). So we give thanks to the Lord for he is good and “there is no unrighteousness in him” (Psalm 92:15). He does good to all people (Psalm 119:68), even showing “his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves his enemies, and he commands his followers to do the same, as Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35; cf. Matthew 5:44–45).
God Shows Steadfast Love.
The second characteristic of God we may give thanks for is his steadfast love. This biblical word is also translated lovingkindness, mercy, unfailing love, or simply love. It speaks of an affectionate devotion that shows itself in acts of kindness. Steadfast love is often exhibited in a relationship based on promises or a covenant. In Scripture, the term is primarily used to describe God’s love toward his people, but it is also used to illustrate human relationships. When referring to God, it is often spoken of in connection with his faithfulness:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)
God’s character drives his display of steadfast love; it flows from attributes such as his righteousness, justice, compassion, patience, generosity, purity, and steadfastness. The psalmist David thought much about God’s character in Psalm 36, emphasizing his steadfast love in the setting of many of his other characteristics:
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.
Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your righteousness to the upright of heart! (Psalm 36:5–10)
One of the specific ways in which God shows steadfast love is how he deals with those who are penitent over their sin. While he is opposed to those who hate him, he shows “steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5–6; cf. Deuteronomy 7:9–11). Though Saul was the first king of Israel, God took away his steadfast love from him because of his repeated disobedience in carrying out the commands of the Lord and his lack of repentance (1 Chronicles 17:13; cf. 1 Samuel 13:13–14; 15:22–23, 26–29; 28:16–19). In contrast, in the restoration of God’s people to Jerusalem and the land after God had judged them for their sin, Nehemiah prayed,
O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. (Nehemiah 1:5–6)
God heard Nehemiah’s prayer of confession, and he helped his people in their work to rebuild Jerusalem and reestablish the worship of God according to his commandments (8:1–8). God forgives and restores those who humbly pray to him in repentance and faith. Hundreds of years earlier, David rejoiced in God, saying, “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you” (Psalm 86:5).
Do You Know Him?
God is always good and his steadfast love is everlasting. Again the psalmist David invites people to trust God: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).
We all are guilty before God and do not deserve his goodness or his steadfast love.
But truly the most significant issue we have as humans is our own sinfulness as displayed in our thoughts, words, attitudes, and affections. We all are guilty before God and do not deserve his goodness or his steadfast love. But God made a way for our sin to be forgiven entirely: “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” (Titus 3:4–5; cf. Romans 5:8). Jesus died for our sins, paying the penalty that we could never adequately pay, and rose again the third day to prove that God accepted his death as our own (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Those who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord may now rest in this assurance from God: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
If David could utter the following words 1,000 years before Christ suffered on the Cross and rose again, how much more may we give thanks because Jesus Christ has accomplished salvation for those who trust in him?
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145:8–9)