Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)
A Robust Theology of Thanksgiving
Tony Richie, D. Min., Ph. D.
Lecturer in Theology
Pentecostal Theological Seminary
Probably most of us generally understand thanksgiving as the expression of gratitude, especially to God. A bit more specifically we might think of thanksgiving as grateful acknowledgement of divine benefits or favor attached to public expression and/or celebration. These ideas are not so much incorrect as incomplete. Of course, we thank God for his blessings often and should testify to it openly and publicly.
Yet a robust theology of thanksgiving does not limit itself to celebratory benefits. It extends itself much farther—into believing confrontation with difficulties inevitably encountered through life in an all-too-often dark and painful world order. But even that bold step stops short. For a strong, healthy, vigorous theology of thanksgiving is more than a grim commitment to face the trials and tribulations of this life with a thankful smile rather than a resentful scowl. Thanksgiving involves an intentional way of being in this world arising out of and giving voice to trusting alignment with God’s revealed will in personal relationship with the crucified and risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we truly believe that there could be no Easter without Calvary, then shouldn’t we be thankful for the Cross as the prelude, and more than that, as the pathway, that leads to the Empty Tomb? And if we are thankful for the Cross of Christ, what about our own cross (Luke 9:23)?
The eighteenth-century English evangelist-theologian John Wesley contributed so much to the historic rise and shape of the American Holiness and Classical Pentecostal movements that he has been called “the grandfather of Pentecostalism”. The Reverend Mr. Wesley shared profound insightfulness into the true nature of thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. One who always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from Him, and receives them for His sake—not choosing nor refusing, liking or disliking, anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to His perfect will.
Prayer. Praise. Yes, that’s Pentecostal language. But thanksgiving “whether in ease or pain”? Or thanksgiving “both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity”? Yes! Because of an overriding, undergirding, all-encompassing confidence in God’s “perfect will”. Thankfulness is not based on the unstable barometer of good times or bad. Rather, our thankfulness is grounded in God’s own essential, immutable, infinite goodness.
Of course, we’re thankful for God’s wonderful blessings and benefits. That’s natural. No, we are not expected to enjoy pain or sorrow. That would be absurd! However, many do embrace and confess the belief that “God is good all the time!” and “All the time God is good!”. For that we ought indeed to be very thankful.