This week we’ve come to Thanksgiving, my third favorite holiday. (My first would be a dead heat between Christmas and Easter!)
Thanksgiving is simple, not over-commercialized, and tied to the material world God has made. I like that … But, this year, as last, I enter the holiday week asking questions: What is the difference between simply giving thanks and giving thanks as one who has been with God? (Or, like a good Woodlander, I ask: How am I changed by faith in Christ as I think about Thanksgiving?)
Psalm 65 is a hymn of thanksgiving, likely sung in public worship. We don’t know for sure, but some scholars feel it might have been composed in the Southern Kingdom, in thanksgiving for deliverance from Sennacherib the Assyrian (around 712 B.C.). If correct, Isaiah 37.30 helps us understand its significance:
And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit.
Isaiah 37 looks forward to Sennacherib’s destruction and ties the harvest to God’s provision for His people. God is saying, Watch my work in My world, and my provision will be a sign for you. The connection between the two passages is not air-tight, but we find the same reasoning in Psalm 65.
Those who have been with God are changed (:1-4). The psalm starts in the Temple of the LORD, the meeting place for God with His people. “To you praise is silent, O God in Zion” (verse 1). Hard as this idea is to translate, it doubtless includes the idea that preparation for praise requires reflection and contemplation that takes place in silence. The result will be (verse 2) repayment of vows. Paying God monetary gifts and returning praise is appropriate.
Sins are removed (verse 3), as God atones for the iniquities of His people. These, His people, are then changed to enjoy God’s blessing (verses 4-5).
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple (ESV).
What I like so much about this psalm is the way it moves from the spiritual to the material. When we have been with God (verses 1-4), we understand that God’s goodness is to be enjoyed spiritually, and materially too (verses 5-13). In the next two movements we see that those who have been changed by God now have the imaginations to recognize God’s work in His Creation.
Those who have been with God see God’s work in power (:5-8). By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and the farthest seas … This might have included the destruction of a great, invading Assyrian army. It certainly includes God’s works in nature.
Those who have been with God recognized God’s work in creation. [He] established the mountains in strength being girded in might … [He] stills the roar of the sea, the roar of the waves. These are not random acts of nature, but natural phenomena that God controls—while not ruling out the laws of the nature that God oversees.
Those who have been with God will include people from the ends of the earth (:8). … Those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.
Is this true? Do all peoples everywhere recognize God and praise Him?
In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga the old hobbit, Bilbo, writes some fantastic poetry that helps us here:
All that is gold does not glitter … Not all who wander are lost … The old that is strong does not wither … Deep roots are not reached by the frost … From the ashes a fire shall be woken … A light from the shadows shall spring … Renewed shall be blade that was broken … The crownless again shall be king.
Tolkien crafts his imaginative world in a worldview that recognizes decline and fallenness. Not all is as it should be. Yet, Tolkien’s character have a glorious theology of the end.
In the same way, to say that God is praised to the ends of the earth is to have a view of the end that we recognize will be fulfilled by Christ at His Second Coming. In the meantime, we give thanks. And, as the changed by God recognize God’s work in Creation, we move from thunderstorms to raindrops.
Those who have been with God see God’s work in earthly goodness (:9-13). This includes the gentleness of Creation:
You visit the earth and water it; You greatly enrich it. The river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it …
Likewise, it includes the overflow of the harvest:
You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening its with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
Note the theme of overflowing. Remind you of Thanksgiving? Note how the psalmist personifies nature itself: the stuff of God’s world must sing for joy! And, those who have been with God, who have been changed by God, they see God’s Creation differently!
This year as we sit down to our turkeys, let’s bear in mind a couple of things:
First, let’s recognize the difference between the imaginary and the imagination. The imaginary is the escapist world we make up to help ourselves feel good. Comic books, action-packed movies, gadgets, advertising—these belong to the imaginary.
By contrast, the imagination is the actual world of possibility we can’t see, except by faith. I think Paul had this in mind in Romans 12.2:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind …
Beings transformed to see everything in Creation as evidence of God’s goodness is a work of God through the redeemed imagination.
Second, let’s recognize that Thanksgiving looks back to a fruitful harvest and forward to a time of abundance at Christ’s return. There’s coming a day when every meal will be a Thanksgiving dinner. Those who have been with God by faith can see this!
So, if you’ve trusted in Christ, and so have been with God—be changed this Thanksgiving. See God in His works, and give thanks!
Here’s a few questions to keep you talking about Psalm 65 this Thanksgiving:
The Psalmist takes us from God’s spiritual work (verses 1-4) to God’s work in His material world (verses 5-13). Those who have been with God recognize God’s work in both. Why is this thought so important for us as modern people?
Have you ever thought about your Thanksgiving turkey being a picture of the abundance God’s people will know at the return of Christ? How does this connection put a different spin on your Thanksgiving celebration?
What are you thankful for in this past year? What are you thankful for that you will experience at Christ’s return?
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!