As Thanksgiving Day of this year beckons, there is no better time to ponder on this word “Thanks”. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” We humans like to hear the word thanks, and it gives such pleasure in our feelings to hear those words. God too loves a thankful heart and there is no doubt about it, to be grateful to Him and also to others. In the above verse in 1 Thessalonians Paul asks us those who are in Christ Jesus to give thanks in everything. It is easy to give thanks through good times but how about times when it is difficult. Would we be able to really say thanks when it hurts?
How about a person in Philippines who had all the faith in God, but yet lost his family in the recent typhoon, would he be able to give thanks? How about parents who had all the faith in God, lost their new born baby, would they be able to give thanks. How about a young man who had all the faith in God, one day comes to know that he has an incurable disease and his days are counted, would he be able to give thanks?
Does Paul actually mean to say, that Christians, no matter what they go through or what they were put through in life should give thanks and that’s what God wants? If so, is our God so hard hearted or so narrow minded that he expects us to give thanks even in those situations. How can we give thanks when it is difficult? Everyone need not have gone through good things in their life this year to give thanks at this point of time, how then shall we give thanks? Are we acting against God’s will if we refrain from giving thanks according to this verse?
How does Bible deal with this reality of life? Does it ask us Christians to go beyond the reality of ourselves, to harden our hearts and please God by being thankful always to Him. What if we don’t feel like giving thanks, and what if we fail to do so, is that we are acting against his will? My answer would be a firm no. Every time I look in to the word and the life of Jesus, I could see that it never loses its touch with the reality, and it never demands something from us which we can’t do. I just get in to this wonderful awe when I go through the life and teachings of Jesus. Even being the God incarnate, Jesus never bypasses the realities and limitations of human life. He is the representative of God to man and man to God. He balanced that reality in a very pristine way throughout his life and in his teachings. He still does that through us.
For instance, in the story of Lazarus (John 11:35), the Bible says that Jesus wept; actually Jesus connects with us through this act of expressing grief. He goes on to express human helplessness against death in the form weeping., Why a God who knows how to resurrect the dead had to weep, when there is an opportunity to stamp His authority over death through this incident of Lazarus., He still wept, still identified Himself with his family and their helplessness. It’s a strong revelation that God doesn’t sit there and enjoy our painful moments, but cries with us and goes through the pain with us.
Jesus made this statement in one of His gospel, “In this world you will have trials and tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is not a statement that He points out to us, but a reality He Himself lived. Leave alone the physical pain on the excruciating cross that He bore; He also did go through the emotional pain as we go through. He did face mockery, trial, loss, betrayal, cross, unkindness, and lastly death. Without negating, I want to stress that He did cry. Every loss, every death, every trial, every mishap in our lives hurts Him more than we think or go through. The greatest representation He showed was on the cross when he cried on behalf of us. “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” is the cry of every human being in pain and helplessness (Matthew 27:46).
Is God helpless to help in our helplessness, or is His hand too short to stop things from happening to us? How then on earth we can see his faithfulness and give thanks when it hurts? Not an easy question indeed. Yes, Jesus didn’t promise an easy life on earth, but He did promise something true and honest, that He will be with us always. He says in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” It means He will be with us through the good and bad times, because He is within us. Jesus conveyed this message very strongly throughout his life. At the time of His suffering, He conveyed that He is with us in our sickness (i.e) He too became sick for us, in our painful moments (i.e) going through the same pain we bear, in our betrayals and disappointments, He too gets betrayed and disappointed with us, when we laugh, He laughs with us and when we cry He cries with us. He is with us through it all; an all empathizing God is He. He has promised His Holy Spirit who comforts us in our difficult situations (John 14: 16, 18 &16:7), He is not a Comforter who comes when we are in pain, but a Comforter who is with us through the pain, carrying the very pain for us. He didn’t allow the painful situation to us, but He allowed that on himself. The reality of life never evades in the story of Christ, and it is for the very reason God became man, word became flesh and death became life in Christ.
Yes, it is difficult to thank God in difficulties, but we can surely be thankful in our heart to someone who goes through that pain with us, as we normally do to any person who comes with us through our difficulties. God doesn’t force us to be thankful, but it becomes so automatic within us when we understand this truth that He is with us always and through everything in life. Paul actually means this truth in this verse, that in Christ Jesus we can give thanks to God, no matter what the situation may be. For God empathized with us in Christ, sent his comforter to heal us in Christ (Isaiah 53; 3, 4 &5), and to give a hope of resurrection in Christ. And this truth can make me say, “Thank you Lord Jesus for taking this journey along with me through the good times and the bad, you need not have gone through this with me, but you chose to, because you truly loved and cared for me.”
It is His (Jesus) family which got lost in the typhoon, His child who died so young and His body with that incurable disease. The voice He uttered still clearly echoes within us saying “Shall I carry this burden for you” (Matthew 11:28), Thank you God once again in Christ Jesus!!!