Thankfulness as an Attitude and Opportunity

As I mentioned in my post last week, I am increasingly convinced that learning to be thankful to God and to one another is crucial to our well-being as individuals and as communities. It is probably just about as important to learn to be thankful to what we call “nature” or what the Bible calls “creation,” especially if we remember that its gifts—like those from other individuals—are also gifts from our Creator. We have much to learn from many of our American Indian brothers and sisters on this score.

Today, I want to interact with one more challenge concerning being a thankful people, which appears a number of times in the Bible. Here are two of many quotations we could cite from the Bible:

Philippians 4:4”Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in the Messiah Jesus.”

Ephesians 5:20: “…giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything (Gr. huper panton – woodenly translated “under all” and probably better translated “under all circumstances” in this context) in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.”

The challenges here are challenging enough without the terrible misapplication that is often made by many Christian sisters and brothers. Many Christians feel obligated—often due to their Platonic/Calvinistic theology—to say that everything that happens is God’s will, and that we should therefore be thankful for everything that happens. I think this is a horrendous misunderstanding of God, Biblical writers, reality, and human nature. A huge percentage of the Biblical materials are written to tell us that much of what we humans do is not what God wants, and much of what we do not do would have been what God wants. The Platonic/Calvinistic theology in this instance is based on misapplying a few verses and ignoring the Master Story of the Biblical materials.

And, it is not just a biblical interpretation issue, it is an issue of God’s nature and human nature. Let’s be real! How could a good God want some disintegrating personality to abduct and enslave a little child for either sexual or labor exploitation? God does not want this and has given 100’s of wise directions about life to lead us humans away from such destructiveness! And, we certainly cannot be thankful that it happens to someone without violating our own being. Nor, should I feel any need to pretend that I am happy and thankful about just hearing that I or a friend has cancer, Alzheimer’s, or even a broken arm. Perhaps nations  going to war is at times the least bad choice in a bent world system, but it is foolish for a follower of the “Prince of Peace” to be thankful that our nation goes to war or continues to be at war. These misapplications of a Biblical teaching rightly drive many of us crazy and must break God’s heart.

But, the challenge is still a big one. Can I remember to be thankful that God is still bigger than even the situations that are really horribly bad and/or sad? Can I remember that God will not waste any situation no matter how tragic if we get it into God’s hands?

Even on the lesser challenges, can I remember on a day that my head aches all day long that I still have a body that is 99.2% functioning in an amazing way as a gift over which I have only minimal control?

And, on a much larger scale, can I still be thankful—even as I face tragedy and death—that these horrible expressions of the brokenness of this age of history will not be the last word?  The last word will be spoken, and it will be spoken by a God of life, love, mercy, peace, and compassion.

And then, we will all be free to express “THANK YOU GOD.”

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