When Thanksgiving rolls around, we often hear these words from 1 Thessalonians, “in everything give thanks.” While seasonally appropriate, these words present a challenge.
How do we give thanks in the midst of turmoil, chaos, or heartache?
For many years I held to the view that these words of the Apostle Paul meant that we should be thankful during difficulties because God will help us get through them. While that is true, the Scripture goes far beyond that to get to the heart of the nature of God.
We’ve all heard the skeptics say that if God is all-powerful, He can’t also be all-loving and righteous while still allowing bad things to happen to good people. So, either He isn’t able to prevent our problems or He must not care about us.
Many modern Christians subscribe to the idea that God is all about love, but after He set the world in motion, He has a sort of hands-off policy. When the bad times happen, He sympathizes with us and comforts us with the knowledge that things will be better in Heaven.
I’ve found that a thoughtful reading of Paul’s full text presents a different perspective (emphasis mine):
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NRSV)
The will of God is for us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks, yes. But perhaps all circumstances are also His will for us.
God is all-powerful. That should go without saying as an absolute requirement to be God. This means that everything we encounter in this life, good and bad, has been allowed by Him. He could have stopped the difficult and the painful, but He chose not to. Not because He doesn’t love us, but because He does.
28 We know that all things work together for good[a] for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28 (NRSV)
Struggles, hardships, and discipline are seldom enjoyable, but they are undeniably character building. A loving parent may wish to spare their child from these experiences, but doing so can result in a weak, selfish, and immature adult. A wise loving parent must make difficult decisions when choosing when to protect their child.
When making your list of blessings for your Thanksgiving prayer next week, remember God’s promises, and you may be able to be thankful even for this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year of 2020.