Giving Thanks To God

I hold and believe that I am God’s creature, that is, that God has given me and constantly sustains my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, my reason and understanding, and the like; my food and drink, clothing, nourishment, spouse and children, servants, house and farm, etc. Besides, God makes all creation help provide the benefits and necessities of life—sun, moon, and stars in the heavens; day and night; air, fire, water, the earth and all that it yields and brings forth; birds, fish, animals, grain, and all sorts of produce. Moreover, God gives all physical and temporal blessings—good government, peace, security.

Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, “Explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed”

It’s easy to forget that a national day of Thanksgiving, though occasionally called for by American leaders since George Washington, was constituted as an annual affair and federal holiday during the Civil War. Amid that “lamentable civil strife,” Abraham Lincoln called for an annual day – the last Thursday of November – to be set apart to give thanks to Almighty God for all the blessings of the previous year.

Perhaps it was the titanic struggle that created so much suffering that prodded Lincoln and his cabinet, particularly Secretary of State William Seward who wrote the actual proclamation, to remind the country that amid its difficulties they should not overlook the bountiful harvest that was a blessing to those living in both northern and southern states. Or perhaps it was a belief that only the God who blesses so abundantly could restore the peace that seemed so elusive and heal the many wounds across the nation. Or perhaps it was an intuition that only as we recognize how blessed we are do we find both the confidence and humility to move toward a peace born of equity.

Whatever the reason, the day was set aside for thanksgiving to God. And it’s the preposition “to” that grabs my attention on this Thanksgiving weekend. We are thankful “for” many things, of course, but thanksgiving for things is always directed toward someone. Indeed, giving thanks makes little sense if that sense of gratitude is not directed outward, toward someone else.

Which brings me to this portion of Martin Luther’s “Explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed” in his Large Catechism. In explaining what it means to say, “I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth,” Luther dwells on God’s role as benevolent creator. In doing so, he reminds us of all the things God has given us and, by extension, all the reasons we have to be thankful. Not simply thankful in general – is there such an emotion? – but thankful to God.

I hope this Thanksgiving weekend you have occasion to count your blessings, to reflect consciously on some of the good things given to you this past year, and to extend your thanks to those people who have been important to you. Saying “thank you,” as I’ve written on before, is one of the secrets of true happiness. And amid these various expressions of gratitude, I hope you also take a moment to thank God for the many blessings – including the people – that surround us. Not because God needs our expressions of thanks, but because in recognizing that we are blessed – and giving thanks for those blessings – we are blessed yet again. Happy Thanksgiving.