Beyond Our Understanding

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery and Ray Tetz—

As this most generous of all the holidays comes to us this year, we find ourselves thinking about Job.

Job was a man pushed to his limits. His story is meant to help us think about life in difficult and extreme circumstances. Job’s story is one of great distress.

But relevant to Thanksgiving in particular is a verse in the book of Job that seems to be as full of gratitude and hope as any in the Scriptures. “How great is God—beyond our understanding!” (Job 36:26, NIV).

We love the “How great is God” part of that text! And at Thanksgiving we express our gratitude for God’s greatness and abundance.

But we are also interested in the last part, the phrase “beyond our understanding.” Lately there have been many things that go beyond our understanding. How about you?

At Thanksgiving we count our blessings, express our gratitude, and affirm all the ways in which we have experienced goodness. But there are also things beyond our understanding, things we simply cannot see as blessings.

So, on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, the pressures of reality begin to reassert themselves. The troubles that are around us on every side push in on our consciousness.

And by Monday, when we are still eating leftovers as well as heading back to work, it can be easy enough to forget the gratitude of Thanksgiving Thursday.

That’s why the second part of the text is so important. Our faith is not just about looking back over past blessings, or even about being thankful for where we are right now—although both of those attitudes are so important. But what about the things that are impossible to be thankful for? The losses, the setbacks, the devastating circumstances?

In those dark moments, as Job so eloquently describes it, there is One who loves us and who goes “beyond our understanding.”

It is from the darkness that Job makes this stunning declaration: God’s love and care go beyond the present moment. God’s care even embraces a future that is unknown to us. God’s loves goes over and beyond!

On Thanksgiving, bravely pushing the difficulties aside, we speak with gratitude about the God who is present with us. Even now, our eyes are on the future—a future beyond our understanding but surely known to God.

Thanksgiving provides us a milestone of gratitude each autumn. We count our blessings and express our thankfulness. But we are not unaware of our losses and disappointments. Thanksgiving can also be an anchor for hope in the midst of tragedy and fear.

In spite of tough times, in spite of uncertainty, in spite of difficulties—at Thanksgiving we look to the future with hopefulness. We look at what we’ve survived, we gather our greatest blessings near to us, and we greet the impending darker days of the winter ahead with hope and confidence. That’s Thanksgiving.

Connie Vandeman Jeffery has had a long career in media and is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference.

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.