As an immigrant, my assimilation into the American culture has been interesting, to say the least. Compared to immigrants from other ethnicities, as a Mexican I had a head start in my pilgrimage into this culture. But it didn’t matter how many movies I had watched, or how many interactions with tourist and missionaries I was blessed with: my assimilation has been a bumpy ride.
Some things, some cultural artifacts have been difficult to understand or embrace, even now. I was shocked when I discovered, for instance, that the Big Mac was not big at all. My mind was blown away the first time I had apple pie with vanilla ice-cream, and a cold glass of milk. Whole milk. Some of you even know how my first encounter with brownies took place.
I didn’t understand the concept of rush hour, or why families had dinner at 6:00 PM. I’m still trying to catch up with the customs of giving pictures of one’s families as gifts, and sending than you notes.
But there are other aspects of the American culture that have been easier to embrace. Hard work, helping those in need, fighting for fairness in the public square.
I didn’t get all the historical background, but I knew the celebration involved food, family, and being thankful. All of those elements resonate with my Hispanic culture.
But giving thanks is more than a cultural expression, according to Scripture. You see, Scripture tells us that dealing with God is never as we expect it to be. Our sin – and yes, we all have it – sets limits to what we expect God to be, or to do. Our sin also directs our attention to self, or to the circumstances; always away from Him.
So, when the opening of Psalm 103 calls us to bless the LORD, which is a way of thanksgiving, we may be tempted to say Yes, but… and then, we enumerate the reasons we couldn’t give thanks, the reasons we couldn’t bless the LORD.
But God is not as we may expect Him to be. He is not saying “Thank me just because!” He is not even saying to thank Him ignoring the reality of our circumstances.
Look back at the beginning of Psalm 103. Look at verse 2. Do you see it? Some translations say ‘do not forget,’ others say ‘remember.’ That simple word implies that David, the writer of this song, has been a witness of God goodness, already. David has experienced, first hand and despite of his circumstances, how completely different God really is. God had made His character clearly known to David, and because of that initiative that God takes, David knew the LORD is not like what we would expect Him to be.
Yes, it is nice to remember what God has done in the past – we may argue – but what about now? Look around, and you will find more than one reason to be concern, more than one reason not to give thanks. That is the reality of this life.
God knows that, and He being not the way we would expect, He challenges us to confront the reality of our daily life with the reality of His work. Verse 2 mentions God’s benefits for His people. In a way, verse 2 serves as a bridge between what God has done, and what God is doing. He is the one Who forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, and satisfies. He does that now.
He didn’t do what was expected; He has not left us to the results of our sin. He has done something about it. That’s why He became like us, but without sin. That’s why Jesus Christ came. Unexpectedly, He didn’t come to just deal with our past. He came to provide for our present, and to secure our future. And all that he has done, is doing, and will do takes place in plain view, so that His people can know that He is never as we would expect Him to be.
He is always better.
Because He is like no one else, let us remember the past, look at the present, have hope in the future. Let us give thanks.
God is not as we may had expected Him to be. He is completely other. He is holy, like no one else. God is, at the same time, just and full of grace. And His justice and grace intersected in Jesus Christ, God the Son, who carried our sin away.
How could we respond to Who God is and What He’s done? As you can imagine, our response is also not as we would expect it to be. Our response is not about performance, it’s not about what we can do. Our response starts with repentance, continues with confession, and then with thanksgiving
God is not as we may had expected Him to be.
And that, beloved, is a good reason to give thanks.
Gracia & Paz