It’s hard to imagine many things which would be more difficult than the simple command that Paul gives in this first letter to the Thessalonians. Is he saying that I am to thank God for everything? Am I to thank God when I am diagnosed with cancer? Am I supposed to thank Him when a loved one dies? Am I supposed to be thankful when I am hurt, facing financial ruin or just dealing with the daily drudgery of life? I do believe that there will come a day when I will thank Him – that is an act of faith. But am I to turn that faith into fruition? Am I commanded to celebrate the victory before the battle? Must I raise my hands at the funeral of my friend and say, “Thank you Lord for taking the life of my friend?” Is that even possible? Is it human? Is that even something that we would or should desire?
Is it the will of God that love should violate its own law? Is it pleasing to the Father that such a loss would be considered a thing of pleasure to me? Is my heart to make no distinction between the sunshine and the rain? Is not one half of my joy simply the absence of pain? If I stop recoiling from pain, how then can I keep my joy? So, is it a good then that I am told to give thanks for everything?
But wait, I have misread the apostle’s message. I am not told to give thanks for everything, but rather I am to give thanks in everything. There is a tremendous difference between the two. I am not commanded to thank God for the darkness, but to bless His name that the darkness is not deeper. I am to thank Him that I have never reached the absolute bottom of the abyss. I have never gone so far down into despair that there is not yet another step.
I read in scripture where Jesus gave thanks over the picture of His broken body. What does that prove? Does it prove that He rejoiced in being sad? No, but rather that He was not completely sad. It tells me that even the Man of Sorrows had not reached the uttermost sorrow. It wasn’t that He was thankful for the pain, but He gave thanks for the mitigation of pain. It wasn’t that He thanked the Father that His body was broken, but that it was broken for me.
So, Paul says, in my hour of sorrow I am to give thanks like Jesus. I am not to look at the step above, but at the step below and thank Him that it’s a step that I have not had to take yet. I am not to gaze at the place that I have fallen from, but rather I am to look down at the depth that I have not descended.
You see, a ram might not have been caught in my thicket. There might not have come a dream in my dungeon, no burning bush in my desert. Bethlehem might have come without the angels. Judas might have come without the Passover. Calvary might have come without the garden.
I am to be thankful that my Father has never allowed the utter, deepest of misery to come upon any human spirit. O, the cable may creak and groan – but it is always anchored deep within the veil. God never fills the cup of Jesus to the brim, there is always a space reserved for light and air. Doesn’t the scripture even teach that He has put my tears into His bottle? So, the quantity of my grief is measured – there is a point which beyond they cannot pass, and for that boundary line, I am to always and in everything give thanks.