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Saturday, October 02, 2004

On thanking God

Recently, I posted on my thoughts concerning Christians' desire for blessings and what I see to be a distinct misconstrual of the nature and meaning of God's blessings. I believe this is due to our warped focus on material success, good health and other physical desirables that we inaccurately identify with "blessings". Although we desperately crave blessings and all of its trappings, we fail to understand what it truly means.

That reflection spurs yet another, related pondering that has to do with the attitude of being thankful to God at all times. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we have a scripture that admonishes us to "give thanks to God in everything". We can see the same injunction in Colossians 3:15: "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Ephesians 5:20 puts it this way: "always thanking God for the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

It is clearly a biblical teaching that Christians need to response with a grateful heart to God at all times. Yet, I have observed that sometimes Christians inaccurately identify thankfulness as the absence of grief. Christians are too quick to replace sorrow with joy and thanksgivings, and sometimes, even the reasons for our thankfulness are misplaced. All this end up making our faith inauthentic which can lead to further problems immediately, or down the road.

Too often I find Christians expressing thankfulness for wierd things. I believe it is wierd to thank God for something that is clearly evil. For instance, I do not doubt that many good things occured on Sept 11. But I cannot thank God for the planes that flew into the buildings. I just can't. I can thank God for the many acts of heroism, courage and compassion that followed, but I just cannot imagine my God wanting me to give thanks for something as absurd as the actual event itself.

When things go desperately wrong, when we are trapped in a tragic and disastrous event or circumstance, I believe we can still maintain a grateful heart for many things. We can still remain thankful to God for all of His gifts, and the fact that we are still alive, and that He loves us and that His grace is sufficient for us. However, I don't think He wants us to suspend rational thought or repress our emotions and mindlessly thank Him for the thing that causes us angst, pain and suffering. It would be wrong to do so. In fact, if we are to give thanks for evil it simply goes against His own teaching on how we ought to pray: "Deliver us from evil" (see related post).

In the Scriptures, I see Jesus sharing the pain and suffering with those who mourn. At Lazarus' grave, even though He was about to raise Him from the dead, He wept. He was involved and engaged in the emotions of the mourners. Yet He was about to overturn the reason for their grief. That speaks volumes in how Jesus approach unpleasant, hurtful and painful situations. I think to glibly thank God for those things in our lives that causes pain and suffering and to trust that somehow being thankful for such things somehow will make things better, actually hinders the healing process and may lead to long term problems that re-surface in other areas and at other times. Healing then takes longer and requires more work, sometimes causing more pain.

When King David found out that God was going to punish him by striking his offspring from his tryst with Bathsheba, he fasted and prayed. He agonized over the event. He did not just accept it as God's best for him with thankfulness in his heart. Yet, when his child died, he washed his face and realized that in spite of his pain, his agony and loss, he can still have hope.

I believe that is an illustration of the kind of attitude of thankfulness, gratefulness and hope that Paul was talking about. It is one that is fully engaged with the whole spectrum of life's emotional roller-coaster ride and one that acknowledges the hurts, sorrow and pain of life as well as the celebration and jubilation that comes with seasons of rejoicing.