“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1
The first prayer that many children learn is said in rushed anticipation before a meal: “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for this food.” There’s actually quite a bit of sound theology packed into that couplet, and we can extrapolate from it beyond the dinner table as to why we should be grateful before God in all of life: because he is good. Psalm 136 agrees. This means that a study on the theme of thankfulness must start by contemplating nothing less than God himself.
To know God is to know goodness, for goodness is the “very essence of God’s being.” God is the All Good. He is filled and overflows with goodness, which means that “nothing can add to him, or make him better than he is; nothing can detract from him, to make him worse.” Famed preacher Charles Spurgeon connected God’s character with our response of thanksgiving, stating that God “is good beyond all others; indeed, he alone is good in the highest sense; he is the source of good, the good of all good, the sustainer of good, the perfecter of good, and the rewarder of good. For this he deserves the constant gratitude of his people.”
From God’s good character flows good acts. According to the psalmist, we thank God not only for who he is, but also for what he has done. God’s goodness permeates his original work of creation and the way he upholds that creation still today. But for the Christian, God’s goodness is not something we observe from the outside, but something we experience from the inside. We can declare wholeheartedly that “his steadfast love endures forever.” We thank God because He has entered into a relationship with us and lavished us with his love. In the New Testament, we come to fully understand that this love was a love to the death. We learn that God sent his Son to succumb to death for our sake, so that we would not be conquered by the grave. Of course this must elicit gratitude! “Thanks be to God, who give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
It’s not uncommon to see posts on Instagram or calligraphied wall art in our friends’ homes that instructs us to “Be Grateful.” Okay—but how? If my spirit of thankfulness is based on my spouse, what do I do on day when they’re not all that good to me and I don’t sense their love? If it’s based on my social status, work performance, or reputation, what happens if I lose these things? But when I root my thankfulness in the soil of God’s good character and acts, I can indeed be grateful. Because I know that I am in his care, under his watch, and this good God loves to work all things for my good (Rom. 8:28)!
Do you see how knowing God has to be the starting place for showing gratitude?
As does Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 135:3; 2 Chron. 5:13; 7:3; Jer. 33:11; Nah. 1:7.
Wilhelmus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, I:122.
Stephen Charnock, quoted in Terry Johnson, The Identity and Attributes of God (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2019), 239.
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (Peabody, MAS: Hendrickson, no date), 3:204.