Whom Do We Thank?

Thanking people for their contributions to our lives is good, but thanking God, from whom all blessings flow, is indispensable. And that is the part that we neglect.

The word “thanks” is found 73 times in 71 verses in the King James Version of the Bible. In Hebrew, four words (two same stems) are used to describe it:[1]

  1. הֻיְּדוֹת (huyyᵊḏôṯ) – thanksgiving
  2. יֶדָא (yeḏā’) – thank, give thanks
  3. יָדָה (yāḏâ) – praise, give thanks, confess, thank, make confession, thanksgiving, cast, cast out, shoot, thankful
  4. תּוֹדָה (tôḏâ) – thanksgiving, praise, thanks, thank offerings, confession

The Greeks, on the other hand, used five words (two same stems):

  1. ἀνθομολογέομαι (anthomologeomai ) – give thanks
  2. εὐχαριστέω (eucharisteō) – give thanks, thank, be thankful
  3. εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) – thanksgiving, giving of thanks, thanks, thankfulness
  4. ὁμολογέω (homologeō) – confess, profess, promise, give thanks, confession is made, acknowledgeth
  5. χάρις (charis) – grace, favour, thanks, thank, thank, pleasure

In every instance of the use of one of those words, the context refers to giving thanks to the God, the Lord of all.

Doxologies (Greek Doxa and Logos) are liturgical expressions of praise to God, such as those found in Romans 16:27, Ephesians 3:21, and Jude 24-25. The English Common Doxology, used in many Protestant Churches, reveals why man is to give thanks ultimately to God alone:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen

 

All blessings come from God, no matter how the blessings come to us. God created and sustains the whole universe, and is the source of all things, physical and spiritual. We don’t own ourselves, and nothing, including us, exists independently of the Lord of the All. God provides the sunshine, the soil, and the seed that gives us our daily bread. The birds that delight us with song and flight live every moment in His tender care. He pours out the water that gives us life and cools us on a hot day. God allows a man and a woman to conceive and bring forth our family, our friends, and everyone else in our lives. The same process gives us physical life.

People bless us through their companionship, their work, and their counsel. It is well that we should thank them for their contributions to our lives. And yet, they are only instruments in the hands of our God. He works through others to meet our needs, just as He works through us to meet the needs of others. In the ultimate sense, I deserve no credit for the good that I do, because the Lord works through me. The same is true for you.

Americans in earlier days recognized the primacy of God as the just recipient of our thanks. Abraham Lincoln wrote:

“Washington, D.C., October 3, 1863. By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State.”[2]

Lincoln’s Proclamation overflows with praise to God and acknowledgement of His justice and goodness. Almost every sentence specifically mentions the God to whom we owe all things. Contrast Lincoln’s wisdom with the vacuous Thanksgiving declaration of President Joe Biden’s of 2021:

“Thanksgiving provides us with a time to reflect on our many blessings — from God, this Nation, and each other.  We are grateful for these blessings, even — and especially — during times of challenge. That is why George Washington declared a day of Thanksgiving for his troops as they marched into that dark winter at Valley Forge.  It is why in the midst of the Civil War — in proclaiming the Thanksgiving holiday we now celebrate today — Abraham Lincoln urged us to remember our “fruitful fields and healthful skies.”  Just as 400 years ago when the Pilgrims were able to celebrate a successful first harvest thanks to the generosity and support of the Wampanoag, today we too express our gratitude for those who have helped us get through this difficult past year.

We are grateful for the farm workers and frontline workers, many of whom are immigrants, who make sure our food is harvested and shipped, keep our grocery stores stocked, and keep our cities and towns clean and safe. We are grateful for the educators who are welcoming children back into their classrooms, helping them make up for lost learning and lost time, both academically and socially. We are grateful for the parents who have carried their families through this challenging time, helping their children navigate this difficult chapter in our Nation’s history. We are grateful for the health care professionals working to vaccinate our Nation, the nurses who comfort and help people, and the doctors who provide care and compassion. We are grateful for the researchers and scientists who have developed safe and effective vaccines and treatments, allowing us to safely enjoy a Thanksgiving this year with more family around the table. As always, we are grateful for our troops serving far from home, keeping us safe and defending our values.

For the First Lady and me, Thanksgiving has always been a cherished time to enjoy annual traditions that have evolved into sacred rituals with our children and grandchildren:  throwing the football, preparing family recipes, lighting candles, and setting the table.  For many Americans, this Thanksgiving will be the first time gathering with loved ones in person since the start of the pandemic — a time of full tables and full hearts. As we celebrate, we will also be thinking of the many families feeling the pain of an empty chair at the Thanksgiving table.  You are not alone, and our Nation stands with you.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 25, 2021, as a National Day of Thanksgiving.  I encourage the people of the United States of America to join together and give thanks for the friends, neighbors, family members, and strangers who have supported each other over the past year in a reflection of goodwill and unity.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fourth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.[3]

Our current president totally misses the mark. Our blessings do not come from “God, our nation, and each other,” they come from God alone. Abraham Lincoln did not urge us to remember our “fruitful fields and healthful skies” but to remember “… Him for such singular deliverances and blessings.” Lincoln tells his countrymen to admit in “humble penitence our national perverseness and disobedience,” and then asks for God to heal the suffering and the nation.

Are we grateful for or are we grateful to our farm and frontline workers, our educators, our parents, our healthcare professionals, our researchers and scientists, and our troops? If we are grateful for them, then to whom are we grateful? If we are grateful to them, are we denying the goodness and sovereignty of God “from Whom all blessings flow?” God uses people, animals, and every created thing to confer His blessings on His creation, but the blessings ultimately come from Him. The Bible requires gratitude to our brothers, but ultimate thanks, praise, and glory to God alone.

Except for the first sentence, God is absent from Biden’s proclamation.[4] There is no hint of national sin, national repentance, divine sovereignty, divine goodness, or divine healing. One wonders if President Biden, or anyone in American government today, has the depth of soul and broadness of wisdom to even think the thoughts of our sixteenth president. Are our leaders today capable of the kind of theological truth and soaring rhetoric that animated President Lincoln?

America remains governed “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and leaders in government are raised up from the people. Our leaders are ourselves, and therefore we get the leadership that we deserve. Singer Lee Greenwood’s “God bless the USA” is hugely popular and rightly requests God’s blessing to sustain America. However, he sings “I’d thank my lucky stars, to be livin’ here today.” Lucky stars? Hopefully Lee, who considers himself a Christian, would thank the Lord of Hosts for his blessings, and would not thank celestial objects and their orientation in space.[5]  Was he using “lucky stars” as a way to avoid offending atheists among his fans, thereby potentially selling more records? If so, did he consider the example that his thanking lucky stars would set for his millions of fans?

A Christian will see and acknowledge every blessing he receives, including every person that blesses him. He will also see through that blessing, and that person, and give thanks and glory to God, the ultimate giver. Until our leaders, and we as a people, can do this, we will never be truly grateful.

 

[1] Blue Letter Bible,

[2] Proclamation of Thanksgiving, accessed 25 Nov 2021, http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm.

[3] A Proclamation on Thanksgiving Day 2021, accessed 25 Nov 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/11/24/a-proclamation-on-thanksgiving-day-2021/.

[4] In Lincoln’s context, the command to give thanks to a personal deity refers to the Christian God, Jehovah. However, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism, and Buddhism also expect that their adherents will give thanks (and praise) to a deity (or certain deities, such as the Amitabha).

[5] The concept of “Lucky Stars” comes from astrology, an ancient belief that one could understand and even predict events on earth from the movement and orientation of inanimate stars, planets, and comets.

Author: MD Harris Family Institute

MD, MPH, MBA, MDiv Colonel, US Army (ret)

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