(1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV) 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Ephesians 5:20 (ESV) 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But this is where the rub comes. Even in those times when we should feel like giving thanks we can neglect to do so because of our own sin:
Deuteronomy 6:10-12 (ESV) 10 “And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Such forgetfulness can have serious consequences:
Deuteronomy 28:47-48 (ESV) 47 Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.
Romans 1:20-21 (ESV) 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
But these commands to continually give thanks become even more problematic to us on those occasions when God’s blessing is not immediately apparent. To take an extreme example, how can we give thanks when we read that a terrorist group has just attacked a Christian school and kidnapped several hundred school girls?
How do the Scriptures enable us to think biblically and thus to thank God when such an atrocity or tragedy occurs? The answer is much more complex than what will be suggested in the next few sentences; but let us at least make a start by pointing out how biblical thinking responds to the evils of this world.
First, we can thank God that the Bible squares with reality, so that the atrocities of this world should not come as a surprise to us (so-called prosperity preachers will struggle here).
The Bible begins with the creation of a perfect world, but by the third chapter it is describing the fall of man and its devastating repercussions for the world in which we live; affirmed over and over again.
Romans 8:18-25 (ESV) 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Man’s sin is never minimized, as we see in Romans 3:10-18 (ESV) 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
What we see going on in the world is what we should expect from reading the Bible. An accurate diagnosis is foundational to an adequate remedy, and for the Bible’s accurate diagnosis we can give thanks.
Second, we can give thanks to God for revealing to us that our sin and the brokenness of our world is not something that we can remedy.
Romans 3:19-20 (ESV) 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin
Third, we can give thanks to God because He provided the solution for our sin and its disastrous consequences.
(Romans 3:21-26 (ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Titus 3:3-7 (ESV) 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
God sent His Son into this world as the perfect God-man, who died in the sinner’s place, bearing the penalty for his sin. In exchange for our sin and condemnation He offers us His righteousness and the gift of eternal life. Jesus is the cure for the consequences of sin for all who will receive His gift of salvation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Fourth, we can give thanks that Jesus is coming to this earth once again, this time to punish evil doers, to put away sin, and to establish a kingdom in which righteousness dwells.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 (ESV) 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Fifth, we can give thanks that God is sovereign over all creation, and over all heavenly and earthly powers
John 16:11 (ESV) 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV) 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Sixth, we can give thanks that our God is a God who “causes all things to work together for good.”
Romans 8:28 (ESV) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.) and thus He even uses the sinful acts of men to ultimately achieve His good and perfect purposes.
We see that with the sins of Joseph’s brothers.
(Genesis 50:20 (ESV) 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Seventh, we can give thanks that our God is mindful of the sufferings of those who are innocent, and that He will always do that which is right.
(Genesis 18:25 (ESV) 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
God’s wrath abides on those who are stumbling blocks to “little ones”
Matthew 18:5-7 (ESV) 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!
Eighth, we can give thanks that our struggles with the success of the wicked is one with which other saints have wrestled.
Psalm 73:1-28 (ESV) Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. 5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. 11 And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” 12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.
16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, 17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. 18 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. 21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, 22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. 23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
This give us instruction as to how we should handle our adversities.
Ninth, we can give thanks for the character of our God, which assures us of His mercy and kind intentions, and informs us that His desire is that men be saved, rather than to face eternal judgment.
Exodus 34:6-7 (ESV) 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Ezekiel 18:23 (ESV) 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV) 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.