Entering this week of Thanksgiving, I was reflecting on all the admonitions in scripture to give thanks to God, and began to wonder if this is a unique capacity of humans. Giving thanks is an act of gratitude – the way we respond as a result of something being given to us. It is a way in which we not only recognize the giver for their generosity, but is also a way in which we signal acceptance of the gift that has been given. So, is this something only humans can do?
Looking through scripture I came across Psalm 145:10 (ESV) which says, “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!” The phrase ‘all your works’ is referring to the Creation. While some versions render the word ‘thanks’ as ‘praise’, the word ‘thanks’ really is an appropriate translation given the context as the psalm indicates all that has been given by God to his creation.
What has God given his creation for which they should be thankful? This psalm tells us that, “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Ps 145:9) Mercy is an act which follows in the wake of compassion – seeing what is needed and providing for that need. In more detail the psalmist says, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Ps 145:15-16)
I am not sure how one would go about empirically testing for the gratitude expressed by an oak or a sparrow. What would that look like? King David, the author of this psalm, had a sense that gratitude was a feature common to all of God’s creation, and that this thanksgiving would be evident to us in the way the Creation tells us about God: “They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” (Ps 145:11-12)
People generally understand the concept of gratitude which most often comes with a sense that the goodness we experience in life comes as a result of something outside of ourselves. With that recognition, we sense the need to offer up some “thanks” to whoever is making our lives better. Being uncertain about where that goodness comes from, I have heard some offer up thanks to ‘the universe’. This seems quite a bit misdirected to me because I don’t see any way the universe acts with any intention for my well being. So, this Psalm offers us a correction to this kind of mistake. We should not be offering up thanks to nature because nature is offering up thanks itself. We may be thankful for things in nature, but not to things in nature. All the thanks should go to the ultimate source of all good things which is God himself.
The importance of this psalm is not really for us to figure out how the living things in nature offer up their thanksgiving. It serves more as a strong admonition to us as humans that we should be about the business of thanksgiving. If lowly trees, and birds can offer up thanks, how much more should we as thinking, feeling humans do the same. To not do so makes us go against what all the rest of creation is doing. This kind of urging is also found in another psalm which says, “Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!” (Ps 103:22)