Give Thanks for everything we don’t deserve
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1)
The hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” has a place in the Christian, especially Lutheran, tradition that teaches us profound lessons about thanksgiving.
One notable time it was sung was the year 1955. Konrad Adenauer, the chancellor of West Germany, had negotiated the return of the last official German POWs still held in the Soviet Union after World War II. Those men were a small remnant of those who went into captivity in the early 1940s, over a decade earlier. The majority had either been already released or had died of exposure, hunger, overwork, or illness.
When those men arrived back in Germany, what did they do to express the overwhelming emotions of that moment? They sang “Now Thank We All Our God.” Here’s the first verse of that hymn:
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom His world rejoices,
Who from our mother's arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.
You might think that they had no reason to thank God after the hellish experiences they'd been through, which for some of them had comprised a third or more of their lives. But we Christians know that even the worst experiences we have on earth are nothing compared to what we deserve. The captivity of those soldiers could be called “hellish,” but it wasn’t hell. It wasn’t what we sinners deserve, what Christ endured in our place on the cross, and what God delivers us from through his gracious forgiveness.
Those soldiers could recognize that what’s evil in the world is there because of our human failure and sin. What’s good in the world is there because of God. God had kept them since the'd been in their mothers’ arms, bringing them through their misery to relief and a new future.
Thanks is given for things we don’t deserve. If we did deserve something, we don’t have to thank anyone for it. We have a right to it.
We thank God for everything we have because we deserve much worse, and any good and fortunate thing we experience isn’t what we deserve. It’s a gift of God’s patience and mercy and love.
In fact, the love of God for humanity is so great that even burdens we bear are forced to serve the eternal benefit of believers and are sent to drive unbelievers to repentance. No matter what misery you’re going through, no matter what captivity you’ve been under, whether it’s a captivity of grief, of sin, of addiction, of depression, no matter where you are right “now,” it’s in this moment that we all can thank God for his countless gifts of love centered in Christ and the blessings he leaves on our way.