How does a Christian give thanks for terrible events? Fatal disease, personal tragedy, national catastrophe, evil men and inhuman atrocities are just some of the grim things that are always occurring in this world. Should a Christian give thanks for things like murder or child abuse?
The Bible commands Christians to give thanks in every thing, give thanks for every thing and give thanks all the time.
“In everything give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
“Giving thanks always for all things.” (Ephesians 5:20)
“In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)
“Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
“By Him therefore let us therefore offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15)
How can a compassionate Christian obey these commands?
Giving thanks for bad things is not treating evil as if it is good. Nor is it trying to excuse evil. Evil will always be a horrible tragedy. Giving thanks for calamity does not deny the painful reality of suffering. Instead, giving thanks for evil recognizes the good purposes of God that are being accomplished in even the most terrible evnts. Consider the most inhuman evil ever perpetrated in the world. The rejection of the Son of God followed by His unjust execution is the most horrible thing to ever happen. Yet Christians always thank God for Jesus’ death on the cross. In the Lord’s Supper Christians gather to remember and give thanks to God for the death of Jesus. Jesus Himself gave thanks at the first Lord’s Supper. Though He knew the suffering waiting for Him Jesus gave thanks to God in that time of great personal agony. Jesus did not deny the horrors of what was coming. He knew them, looked them full in the face and thanked God. Christians can thank God for terrible things without acting as if evil is good or pain is pleasant.
Giving thanks is not just about the thanking God for the pleasant things we receive from Him. It is easy to give thanks for answered prayers, a nice home or a pay raise. Giving thanks is about more than the blessings of God. Giving thanks is about recognizing God’s good hand in everything that happens. Giving thanks looks above the circumstances to acknowledge the holy God who is accomplishing His good purposes in all things.
Christians can give thanks because we recognize that temporary benefit is not the most important thing. We can be grateful for painful circumstances because we know they are working in us eternal good. (2 Corinthians 4:17) God’s primary interest is not in increasing our comfort or in helping us achieve our dreams. God’s concern is for our eternal gain. Giving thanks looks beyond the present to the promised. Continual thankfulness looks past the temporary to the eternal good that God is working.
We give thanks because God is good, God is sovereign, God is accomplishing the eternal plan promised in Scripture, God is redeeming men and God is using every situation to change the Christian into the likeness of Jesus. We give thanks because no matter how much the situation changes, God is the same and He is always accomplishing what is best for those who love Him.
Man is guilty and condemned by God. The whole earth groans and suffers under the curse of sin. Since the world and all its inhabitants suffer under the wrath of God, why do good things happen? If nature is “red in tooth and claw” and survival is only of the fittest as claimed by those who believe there is no God, why are do any good things occur?
Consider the many good things that occur across the globe. Every spring the flowers bloom in a vibrant panorama of loveliness. In winter the snow covers the earth in a blanket of sparkling white. The stars fill the night sky in a wonderful display. Technology has allowed man to see ever deeper into the universe and into the atom. Looking into the depths of the sky man has discovered nebula and galaxies of startling beauty. Looking into the depths of the atom man has beheld an arrangement of such magnificence as to leave one breathless in wonder. If all is a product of chance or if God is a cruel, capricious god, why is the universe filled with such winsome displays?
If nature is careless and unconcerned, why is the earth filled with so many good things for men? Every year crops produce abundantly, with provision sufficient for the world’s inhabitants. The rains continue to fall in their season, nourishing the earth. The sun continues to shine, stirring the plants to growth. Herbivores large and small grow strong on the abundant supply from the earth. Carnivores enjoy the fruits of all this labor in perfectly cooked steaks and bacon wrapped buffalo wings. Why all these good things? Why is the world filled with things that provide a riot of happiness for men to enjoy? A godless world has no answer for these questions. A cruel God does not give such bounty. One can assume life evolved to exist on such things as the world produces, but the question still remains. Why such an abundance? Why such beauty? Why such pleasure? Why not a bare existence of meat and drink in a monotonous landscape that sustains but does not delight.
Bad things happen. The problem of evil will continue to bother men until the end of time. The curse of sin has left the world in agony. The bigger question to consider is why do good things happen. The grace of God gives good gifts to all men. To the just and the unjust, the saved and the lost, the innocent and the evil, God gives good things for men to enjoy. The Psalmist David answered this question best in Psalm 65,
“Who by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power: Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people. They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice. Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.”
Good things happen because God is good and compassionate to all men.