The Bible teaches us that “in everything [we should] give thanks; for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This is a challenging command given the fact that information – much of it discouraging – comes like a daily tsunami. Today the information we receive is not restricted to the size of our own lives. We learn about mass shootings, insensitive or downright offensive tweets, the gain and loss of financial wealth and the status of situations miles away in an instant. Rather than encourage us to give thanks, they encourage us to be discouraged. How can we think about these things differently?
I have been helped by recognizing the distinction between “giving thanks for” and “finding hope in.” I can give thanks for the various events, both good and bad, knowing that each has the potential to produce a need for the gospel message and a right relationship with Jesus. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio not more than an hour from the horrific shooting in Dayton. Thinking about that shooting brings grief, and even anger, that one person’s sinful decisions have brought so much pain to others. I hope that justice occurs in this situation.
That is not all. How can a person possibly “give thanks for this is the will of God” in a situation where people are killed and wounded? We can give thanks that this event, like so many others in our world, because these events remind us that this life will never provide all that we need. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in our hearts. It is part of how God made us. Yet, we are victims of our own self-deception. When the stock market is good, when our job is secure, when we can go on an amazing vacation, then we are fooled into thinking that this world provides all we need. It is the hard things and the grievous things in life that continually point us to a deeper reality. The Bible never tells us that giving thanks cannot also be accompanied by grief and anger. They can co-exist.
That brings us to the issue of “finding hope in.” Mankind will never be able to fill our need for hope. Only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus can satisfy the “God has set eternity in our hearts” aspect of who we are. Ecclesiastes concludes with a very simple statement, “fear God and keep his commandments.” In Psalm 42 the psalmist suffered. He used a powerful metaphor of his physical tears mocking him (see v. 3). He longs for the day when he can worship freely (v. 4). He longs for the day when his suffering does not seem so large and instead, he feels the sweet presence of God in blessing (v. 9). While he waits for his longings to be fulfilled, he counsels himself: “Hope in God for I shall yet praise him” (vv. 5, 11).
We long for the day when our leaders will lead in righteousness, justice, and mercy. We long for the day when Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are used to lift high the name of Jesus. We long for the day when the killings cease. We long for the days people from all nations, regardless of how they speak, what they look like, or what they wear will dwell together in peace. Only Jesus can bring that about.
I can “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will” – even things that bring me grief, pain, anger, and suffering – but I can only find my hope in God, His Son, and the Spirit He sent as a seal of our redemption.