I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with many things for which to give God thanks. First Thessalonians 3:18 tells us “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I find this to be an especially powerful verse, because how can we thank God in all circumstances?
I’ve heard people say something like this at funeral homes. “It was their time to go.” “This death is God’s will.” “God wanted another angel in heaven.” I hate all the variations of these sentiments. They are bad theology and they give us wrong ideas about God. Imagine what a monster God would be to a child who hears such a statement.
God wants good things for all people. Our heavenly Father intended that all people would live long, sickness-free lives in fellowship with him. God wants us to have lives that are blessed and abundant. He tells us so over and over in the Bible. Matthew 7:11 is just one example: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
A small book called “The Will of God” by Leslie Weatherhead helped me think more clearly about the bad things that happen to people. The book was written by a British pastor and theologian during World War II when every person in his congregation had been touched by the evils of war. In the book, Rev. Weatherhead differentiates between the intentional will of God, the circumstantial will of God, and the ultimate will of God.
The intentional will of God is what God wants for all people, for every creature. God wants good things such as peace, abundance, health, happiness. We can only have those things when we are walking in the will of God. And God wants each of us to be in a close relationship with him.
But bad things happen. We make sinful choices that have consequences. Others make sinful choices that impact our lives. Disease and death are an ever present reality. Accidents happen. God has set up the world in a way that natural events take place and cause devastation. Our loving God does not cause the evil things to happen. God does not will them. But, in these circumstances, God wants us to act in faithful ways. Witnessing to our hope in the face of death. Responding to hate and sin with love and forgiveness. Finding ways to be thankful despite the circumstances of our lives at any given point.
Because, finally, the ultimate will of God cannot be defeated. Nothing can keep God’s ultimate will from being carried out in our world. Romans 8:38-39 reminds us “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So, can you give thanks in all circumstances? Not FOR all circumstances, although we often learn best when we are going through times of trial. But can you live in a way that glorifies God no matter what circumstances you are facing today? Can you be faithful even when people around you are not being faithful? Are you able to turn away from sin even when you are tempted? Can you be thankful for the people God has given you even in the face of death? Are you able to share God’s love when others have hurt you or been unloving?
God asks that we seek his will and do his will. Even if we do this, we will not have perfect lives. Can we learn to give thanks in all circumstances? I know we can because I know many faithful people who do. They have been teachers, guides, and witnesses to me. And I especially thank God for them!