The shimmering apple gives off a glow as we walk through an orchard at harvest time, and a bright red or deep yellow attracts the eye in the grocery store bin. This glow or striking “hello” reflects the goodness of God’s ever-giving provision for His people. Apples thank God in their color and taste. They invite us to participate in their thanksgiving as we enjoy them as the human creatures for whose sustenance, among other creatures, including worms, God intends their growth and harvesting. The chirping of the birds that wake me in the morning resounds with thanks for a new day and for the blessings of sun, rain, sleet, or snow. The peeling of the church bell bursts with joyful thanks as it marks the hours and calls to worship. The roar of the waves on the seashore, the rustling of the wind through the pines on a mountainside, even the whirring of machines producing goods and the swish of the dishwasher all echo with their thanks in the ears of believers. Even the jarring sounds of the jackhammer on a nearby construction site calls us to join in thanksgiving for the blessings of our ability to construct buildings which provide shelter and home for God’s human creatures.
The rumbling of the earth itself, the exclamation of the strong wind, the flash of lightening fire did not convey to Elijah the voice of the Lord, but he could have heard them as nature’s response to what was coming from the still, small voice, the voice of the One who brought all of nature into existence and whose Word keeps it going (1 Kings 29:11-12). The seeds Paul uses as an illustration in 1 Corinthians 15 express the joy of thanksgiving as they sprout and poke their heads through the earth in their outburst of gratitude for being what the Creator created them to be and for doing what their Maker made them to accomplish.
God enjoys the thanks of His creatures who respond to His creating them by being whatever He has made them to be. Thanks, Luther suggests, cannot be separated from praise, and thanks and praise turn into service and obedience in the lives of faithful people, who desire to be all God made His trusting human creatures to be. We can thus imagine that, by being what God made them to be, all creatures are in their own ways giving thanks to their Creator. Thanksgiving utters a confession of dependence, an acknowledgement of the gift of something not earned or deserved. Thanksgiving to God recognizes both His responsibility for the origin of all creatures from His creative Word and His preserving and furthering His creatures with His nourishing, supporting Word.
Some creatures are twisted out of their natural form and function by human sinfulness and the fragility which results from it. However, believers, who know who their Creator is and what He does, hear and see in all He has made the goodness crowned by Jesus as He speaks His words of forgiveness from the cross and dies as He completes conquering sin. They can hear in the goodness of other creature’s songs of gratitude to God.
God enjoys the thanks of His creatures who respond to His creating them by being whatever He has made them to be.
That goodness is an expression of beings or objects which are faithful to God’s design and purpose for them as He has shaped them and as He sustains their existence. The psalmists tell us all creation praises the Lord, and every created gift of His to His human creatures expresses in its very existence and praise the dependence of thankfulness that invites human thanks as well. Our musical instruments serve us as means by which we express our thanks to God as our own gratitude to Him grasps these gifts (Psalm 33:2,3; 43:4; 71:22). At the same time, they are in their tones and tunes expressing a gratitude that acknowledges God as the good Creator of all.
In the past, people have sensed a larger harmony in the universe as they observed the movement of the planets and the changing appearance of the constellations of the stars. This harmony reflects Eden’s shalom—its peace, order, serenity—as God’s creatures all proceed with the tasks and fulfill the purposes for which He designed them, brought them into being, and supports them as they continue to function. The harmonies of nature flow into our bodies as our eyes see their form and beauty, as our ears hear their melodies, as our noses smell the sweetness of their fragrances, as our tongue tastes their delicious delights, as our skin feels the comforting warmth or the stimulating chill of God’s wondrous variety of the total collection of all He has made.
It is true that we can interrupt the thanksgiving of some elements of God’s creation. Smog’s turning the air we breathe into the enemy of our lungs and a fashioner of cancer cells reflects our own abuse of some of His gifts. Indeed, the air we breathe is the same air that soils and sullies the snow and reduces its God-given beauty to an eyesore. The fragrances of the food we find delicious deteriorate into sour, putrid smells as the food turns bad and begins to decay. The sounds which inspire and delight can so easily be turned into jarring ear-breakers penetrating our entire bodies. The medicines that do what God has designed them to accomplish have side-effects which sometimes dim our thanks for the cure. In various ways, various aspects of the creation groan in myriad manners. This groaning reminds us that, on the way to the glory awaiting us, all creation experiences the longing that accompanies our Savior’s process of liberating us from sin and death (Romans 8:19-24).
But as Paul affirms in Romans 8, such interruptions will not continue forever to diminish elements of God’s creative goodness, of His insatiable desire to give to His creatures from the richness of His love. As Paul explained in Romans 5, Jesus Christ has transformed the direction of sinful human beings and is leading His chosen people back into Edenic life as Adam and Eve enjoyed it in the beginning. We have hardly a clue as we strive to imagine what this new creation will be. We cannot begin to envision what glories there will be to enjoy in the new Heaven and the new Earth. We will, of course, remain creatures, and the Triune God will remain Creator. Our immortal bodies will surprise us with the re-created forms of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling. But bodies we will be, and our eternal thanks will undoubtedly continue to be expressed in harmony with the entirety of the new creation. All creatures, including us, will gladly express our dependence on our Creator, by giving thanks and praising Him, face to face. A part of our eternal shalom will take form in the delight of thanking the One who has loved us not only in His creating us but also in His delivering us and renewing our righteousness before Him, and in His sanctifying, life-transforming presence and power. Eternal life will embody the thanks that expresses trust in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which already stamps our lives and issues in our thanksgiving.