At this time of year it’s natural to think about the virtue of giving thanks to God. On the surface, it sounds so easy.
Perhaps we think of Thanksgiving as the most “tame” and harmless of all holidays with little at stake (except perhaps that of overeating!). But that’s far from the reality of the matter.
As Christians, the foundation of what we believe every day of the year — in sickness and in health — in good times and in bad — comes to the surface at Thanksgiving.
I am convinced that our circumstances have almost nothing to do with our ability or inability to give thanks to God.
Some of the most joyful, gracious, and thankful Christians I know happen to live with chronic illness and pains and losses that would stagger most people. Their ability to give thanks every single day has nothing to do with their circumstances or their comfort.
On the other hand, I also know people with pains and illnesses who feel angry toward God. They talk as if God has unfairly dealt them an undue measure of pain and sorrow in this life. They spend their time complaining and grumbling with no thanksgiving.
So I am convinced that our circumstances have little or nothing to do with our ability or inability to give thanks to God. Rather, our theological perspective on our circumstances has everything to do with whether we are thankful to God with joy in His goodness… or not.
If we truly believe that as fallen creatures living in a fallen creation that disease and death should be the exception and not the rule, we are going to be sadly disappointed. Jesus even told us, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Ever since the fall of humanity into sin and corruption “the whole creation groans” (Romans 8:22).
“And we ourselves, who already have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).
Now there is a way of complaining to God that exists within the realm and jurisdiction of faith. But there is a sinister complaining about God that exists only in the realm and neighborhood of unbelief.
If I see my chronic illness and sickness and brokenness in this life as an exception that is unfair, my heart will become increasingly bitter and thankless over time.
But if I understand at the outset that in this life of sin and disease, we are all going to eventually have pains and losses and brokenness and blindness and cancers and griefs and death until we get home, then I can stand on the promise of Romans 8:28 and in my broken heart through tears write “GOOD” over every disease and loss.
Understand, I don’t want these things to happen to me any more than you want them to happen to you. We would never choose to suffer if we could avoid it and still grow in sanctification and still be conformed more and more into the image of Christ. But Jesus is producing something in us through these afflictions that comfort could never produce.
Knowing that God is sovereign over every good and bad thing that enters my life prepares me to take heart in the goodness of His purpose in my heartbreak and illness and pain until He brings me home to be with Himself.
In this way, what I believe from Scripture about God’s purpose in my hurts and the evils I may suffer in this life allows me to trust Him in the darkness until He finally brings me into the light.
Although I don’t like to publicize my own frailties, it sometimes helps people to understand my context when I mention the perspective from which I write and preach. Otherwise, you might think of me what Shakespeare said of Mercutio: “He jests at scars who never felt a wound!” Nothing could be further from the truth.
In addition, I also endure the same viruses and plagues and griefs that sweep through our community just like everybody else. So I am united with you in physical afflictions, both seen and unseen. I write with this in mind.
Understanding our personal struggle enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. We must be compassionate toward the hurting as Jesus taught us when He rebuked the religious leaders for their lack of compassion on those who are afflicted physically (Luke 13:10-17).
God is also glorified by the tears of His faith-filled people when their hearts and bodies are broken with grief and pain in this life. In this world, there will be pains and tears of suffering. But in His presence there is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11)!
That’s why Thanksgiving is such a profound mark of faith in the presence of illness and disability… and of disease and death. Our ability to give thanks to God has almost nothing to do with our circumstances; it has everything to do with our theological perspective on our circumstances.
This is the triumph of faith in a fallen world!
With joy in our Savior,