“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His faithful love endures forever.”

-Psalm 136:1

You might be familiar with this refrain from Psalm 136 as it is also found in 1 Chronicles 16:34, Psalms 106, 107, 118, and 136. It is a formula of thanksgiving and worship. These short sentences pack a big punch: they contain one command followed by two reasons to obey. As we enter into our culture’s season of thanksgiving, let me encourage you to let the structure of this chorus guide the way you give thanks.

Give Thanks to God

Notice that the command to give thanks identifies to whom we should give thanks: Yahweh, the God of Israel. This specificity means we should thank the God who is rather than anyone or no-one. We may be tempted to follow the influence of society in generically giving thanks without specifying the particular benevolent party. This is a byproduct of religious pluralism and the rejection of absolute truth; it doesn’t matter whom you thank, just be thankful. If there is no true deity then the exercise of giving thanks to a figment of our social imagination is at best a waste of energy and at worst self-deceiving.

Likewise, giving thanks to an impersonal force (like the universe) is absurd because an impersonal force hasn’t chosen to give you anything. In fact, it is the intentionality and will of the Giver that make thanksgiving appropriate. He has chosen to act in accord with his character on our behalf, and thus he is worthy of thanksgiving. When we give thanks, let’s thank the God who actually is and who purposefully acts in time and space for our good.

Give Thanks Because God Is Good

The refrain goes on to identify two reasons we should thank the God of Israel. First, he is good. This means that he is not wicked, corrupt, or evil. God always acts out of the goodness of his character, and those acts include creation as well as redemption (see the rest of Psalm 136). God’s goodness is true even when he ordains that we go through hard times. Even in such times we can thank him because his goodness permeates and supersedes the short term difficulty of trials. He is not mischievous or malicious—he is good, all the time.

Give Thanks Because God is Faithful/Loving/Merciful

The second reason we should thank God is because of his faithful covenant love. This term—hesed—is notoriously difficult to translate. It refers to God’s gracious commitment to keep his covenant promises regardless of the failures of mankind. It’s a good word. We thank God not only because he’s good, but also because he acts in loving, merciful faithfulness forever. He is gracious, and that grace is seen most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ and it will never run out. We may have failed, and others may have failed us, but God never fails. We have much to be thankful for, so let us give thanks to the Lord. He is good, and his faithful love endures forever.

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