This Is The Thanks I Give…
Next week is Thanksgiving, and there is yet another Disney movie hitting a theatre near you. Because Disney has an amazing marketing team (and I have small children) we already pretty much have the songs memorized. Of course, I have not seen the movie yet to get the full context, but the villain of the film has a song that I can’t help but think of when I think of thanksgiving to God.
The song is sung by a character that appears to have all the power and authority to provide for everyone in the land through mysterious powers (a caricature of a god.) The title of his lament is “This is the Thanks I Get?” and is basically complaining that people are not grateful enough at every little characteristic or gesture he reveals. Here are a few lyrics:
- “I put the “I” in omnipotent, I’m passionate not petulant, now someone praise me for my benevolence!!”
- “I’d give the clothes off Benito’s back if you really needed that. I’d be the first one to volunteer Henry if your home were to crumble or if you were in trouble.”
- “I granted 14 wishes last year, come on, that’s a high percent. Now you’re questioning your king? The disrespect I just underwent!”
Why spend so much time on a fictional Disney villain? Because I think that this is a not-so-subtle parody of how we view and treat God. We read from the Bible that God is all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing, over and over we are told to offer God our thanksgiving for all God has done, and we see that all goodness mysteriously comes from God. If we sandwich all those truths together, one might come to the conclusion that God is not much different than King Magnifico, a deity that can grant your wishes, but only if you can out-thank the next guy. But does God just want our thanksgiving to boost God’s own ego? And does God pick and choose what requests to fulfill based on how God feels about us that day? What are we really thanking God for anyways?
There is someone in the Bible that knew A LOT about God, and he also wrote A LOT about God, and his name is Paul. Paul penned most of the New Testament letters, and in them he wrote A LOT about thanksgiving to God. So, it is clear that it is important enough for him to tell the Church to live in thanksgiving. One of Paul’s more quotable (or tweetable) verses does not explicitly talk about thanksgiving, but does have a lot to do with our posture on thanksgiving (for good or bad.) “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28)
Now, this verse is true, but it is 17 words in the middle of a chapter that is all about God’s love and will for our lives, and actually how to express our thanksgiving in our contentment. This chapter explains how, through Jesus, we can find freedom from our selfish desires, be sustained through trials and temptations, and trust that no matter what we face that we are God’s beloved children who will receive redemption along with all of creation. Right before the above quote, Paul describes all of the current sufferings that all of creation is experiencing, but even so, God is at work to make all things good according to God’s will. Paul then goes on to say that even as we face death all day long that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God.
When we see God through the full lens of Paul here, we see that God is not selfish and does not play favorites. God is love. We don’t find a god that gives worldly favor to some and not others, but God that is revealed through the love of Christ as an eternal resurrection to perfect goodness.
The challenge with religions, both in Bible times and today, is that we sometimes thank God for what we want, but not what God wants. One of the reasons the religious leaders got so mad at Jesus is because when Jesus revealed that He is God, that shattered their dreams of the god they wanted. They wanted a god to restore their earthly powers and prosperity. They wanted a god that would destroy their enemies (based on their evaluations of course.) They wanted a god that would bless them by taking what they thought was theirs from someone else (look back at Benito and Henry from the song…) But when Jesus redefines being blessed as sacrificial love on behalf of all, they would have rather had King Magnifico. Maybe this means we start our new posture of thanksgiving with asking questions that lead to repentance.
- Are we thankful to God for what we have in a possessive way? (If I smile and say “thanks daddy!” hopefully he will keep giving me what I want…)
- Are we thankful to God for what we have in a selfish way? (it stinks that you don’t get to have what I have, but I guess dad must love me more…)
So, how does thanksgiving help us grow more intimately with God? It draws us closer in the love of Christ when we are truly thankful for who God is and what God is doing, regardless if we feel we are the physical beneficiaries at that moment.