Is God Thankful?
I was out walking the mail, just beginning to set off on another relay, when I received a text. It was from my wife. It read:
“Give me your answer tonight: Is God thankful? Something to ponder.”
I was immediately intrigued. The question had never entered my mind, and I was already mentally “Googling” the Scriptures in search of a clue.
I texted back: “Hmm. Interesting! Will be fun to think about :) What made you think of that?”
The familiar whistling sound soon came back: “I was talking to Ticy [our 3 year old daughter] about being thankful, and I realized that it’s one of the few attributes that we are to have that I’m not sure God has. Who would He be thankful to? Within the Trinity?”
So is God thankful?
For some their initial impulse might be to answer with a fairly certain “Yes.” They might not know exactly why they think this is so, but the thought process might be formulated roughly as follows:
Being thankful is nice,
God is nice,
therefore God is thankful.
Others will no doubt feel less than sanguine about the above, squinting their eyes and what not. They’ll approach the subject a bit differently. What does “being thankful” mean, anyway? Why are we thankful?
Suppose you’re moving something large and you need a helping hand. Big friend Joe helps you move it. In response, you tell him, “Thank you.” What was that? What was the “thank you?” Essentially this: In response to receiving help you express appreciation.
Now such appreciation could be expressed in response to the wonderfully mundane (like someone passing the ketchup) or for the deeply profound (like someone saving you from drowning). In each instance, the act of voicing appreciation stems from some kind of need being met, or help (however trivial) extended. It is an expression of gratitude.
The difficult question is how God could be thankful given His omnipotence and omniscience. He doesn’t need help with homework. He doesn’t need help lifting something. He isn’t dependent on anything. He’s God. So it would seem that if He were going to pray before a meal, as it were, He would be thankful to Himself. But then why give thanks?
In this vein, it’s interesting to note the Bible’s use of “thanks,” or “thanksgiving,” or “thankfulness.” I haven’t dedicated much time to carefully examining all of the various instances in Scripture, but after a cursory look it appears that the term “thankful” is conspicuously absent, insofar as it relates to God expressing thankfulness for men behaving correctly (and the like). He’s joyful, angry, grieved, pleased, etc... but not expressly thankful.
This is an interesting observation, no doubt.
But that isn’t the end of the matter. There are in fact a few instances of God expressing thankfulness.
Consider the following:
“At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.’” Matthew 11:25
“So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.’” John 11:41
(See also Matthew 15:36 and 26:27 for other related concepts)
Here the plot thickens. Christ clearly expresses appreciation to the Father. He thanks Him. Therefore, if we’re going to say anything with certainty about the subject, we can say that Christ, as the God-man, was thankful. It’s right there in black and white.
But here’s the question: Is that all we can say? Is such thankfulness only associated with the incarnation? Is it merely a component of being human? What about thankfulness in the Godhead in eternity past? Or what about God thanking us?
Here are a few brief and admittedly rough thoughts. Let’s start with God in eternity past.
Was God thankful in eternity past? Yes.
At the end of the day, I have a hard time separating love and thankfulness. The two are intimately related. In the communion of the Trinity, where love flows with infinite perfection, it is hard to imagine a total absence of thankfulness. The notion feels wrong. But more concretely, given the fact that the Church was given to Christ before the foundation of the world by the Father, and given the fact that Christ gladly agreed to die for this Church, it is hard to imagine that love and thankfulness were not expressed in tandem. Besides, I think someone would be hard pressed to say that the thankfulness expressed by Christ to the Father while on this earth was temporary- relegated only to His earthly ministry. Surely such expressions provide insight into their eternal relationship. In this respect, I would suggest that the onus is on those who would say otherwise.
Much more should be said, but we press on.
Next question: Does God ever thank men? I believe so.
While it is true that God is in need of nothing, and while it is true that we have only what we have received (1 Cor 4:7), I think God would express thankfulness as a gesture of appreciation.
Let’s imagine the nations in the new heavens and new earth presenting their gifts to God. Would God not, by way of condescension (WCF 7:1), express appreciation, even thankfulness, for such gifts? One would think so. Does this take anything away from God? I cannot see how. In some reminiscent way, perhaps as a faint analogy, this wouldn’t be entirely unlike a young child drawing a picture for their father. The father bought the crayons. The father “created” the child. The father sustains the child by caring for him. And yet, the father delights in the crudely drawn picture. Why? Because he loves the child. And the child loves him. And because of that, the father says “Thank you.” The emotion of love is channeled through the words.
So in the end, when asked if God is thankful, perhaps our answer should be, as is the case with much of theology, “Well, it depends... but yes.”